None of us would dispute the value of technology, especially when we are seeking information that would have previously required us to visit the library and spend copious hours in the reference section. Having done so through high school and college, I don’t miss that experience very much except for the ethereal, netherworld feel of being in the presence of reference materials that are older and more venerable than anything else in my world.
The down side is that the previous version of customer service, complete with hand-holding and careful attention to client needs and concerns, seems to have been subordinated to speed and electronically expedited access, that which is the result of stupefying technology. Without exception, every entity with which I conduct business nudges me to operate with them on the web. My bank. My health insurance. My credit cards. And on and on it goes – my med supplier, my cell phone, my life insurance – all of it. In most cases we are offered the option of speaking with a somewhat live human being or pushing forty or fifty buttons to be told that our inquiry or problem cannot be resolved without calling.
Unfortunately, the phone is a more egregious example of the decline of customer service or the image of service at all. Have you ever tried to speak to a representative of a cell phone company? Unless you’re retired or having nothing better to do (imagine that), you can easily expect to commit an hour to resolve something as basic as a billing question. I won’t address the issue of speaking to representatives whose second (or third or fourth) language is English, for fear of opening numerous cans of worms. However, the challenge is reaching a human capable of speech at all.
Having spent the majority of my life in the context of delivering superlative customer service, I suspect that I am not without significant bias with respect to what customer service appears to be. What it’s not is being on hold or continuous electronic loops with an internet provider. It’s also not reordering medicine after logging on, answering thirteen security questions, verifying address and electronically signing a variety of oaths rather than calling the pharmacy on the corner for a prescription renewal. Does that make me a technophobe? I think not. But how do our providers justify economy of doing business at the expense of this ubiquitous poor service?
Remedies are available: Instead of listing ten options on a phone call, lead with, “If you would like to speak with a customer service representative, please select one”. Establish chat capabilities for any online companies, for the purposes of resetting a password or getting a balance without having two or three encrypted emails sent. Provide dedicated phone lines for those customers who want only to speak with customer service representatives. Consider placing the customer satisfaction survey at the end of the call rather than the beginning. We will be in a better position to determine whether or not we want to bother.
I’m not ready to sacrifice humanity for the sake of doing business. Training representatives to smile occasionally and remember the traditional “please” and “thank you” would be substantial improvements. This is not to suggest that our retail establishments are particularly diligent about being helpful or accommodating – I’ve had my share of snarly retail employees and those who consider it a personal imposition when you ask where the gizmos are located. But considering the demographics of target populations may be an excellent method of distinguishing companies from their competitors. Make some of this senior-friendly for our citizens who don’t want to own or operate a computer.
Whenever I have clients apologize for taking my time, I remind them that I am employed by virtue of their presence and that it is my privilege to work toward satisfying whatever need is expressed. Perhaps this is a sentiment most appropriately delivered to bank, credit card, health insurance or catalog company employees. We really do pay your salaries and are worthy of the best you’ve got.