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The Final Act: The Disappearance of Customer Service

February 29, 2024 Charles Quinichett

The Disappearance of Customer ServiceWhat does good customer service look like to you in 2024?

There was a time not too long ago when you could pull up at a gas station and an attendant would come out, ask you how much gas you needed, and fill up your tank based on your response. Then they would voluntarily clean your windows and mirrors, check the oil level of your engine, and add air to your tires if they appear to be low. If they filled up your tank, you might get a free mug or drinking glass featuring the logo of your favorite sports team, or maybe they’d give you a free bumper sticker or key chain.

Today, you pull into a gas station, pump your own gas, clean your own windows (if a squeegee is even available), get your receipt from the pump (if it’s not out of paper), and purchase air for your tires (I must have missed the day when air got a price tag).

If you need to call customer service to ask a question about a service or product, it often feels like you are irritating the person who answers the phone, provided you can get through to speak to a human at all. If you have to leave a message, it might be a very long time before someone calls you back.

For many people, it feels like companies and service organizations are simply no longer interested in going the extra mile for their customers and don’t care if they’re unhappy with the product or service they’re providing. These days, poor (or no) customer service is now considered normal by many consumers.

This perception is often validated when you take a closer look at how many businesses approach customer service in today’s economy, including recruiting, training, company culture, and management style.

Recruiting and Training

One of the reasons customer service is disappearing can be traced back to management and recruiting. Shoving square pegs in round holes just to fill a seat can be disastrous. But since time is money, employers have been forced to hire people who lack the essential skills required to provide high-quality, empathetic customer service. The correct mindset and attitude go a long way in customer service and not everyone is cut out to do the job.

Recruiters must vet applicants thoroughly to make sure they have the right combination of skills and personality traits to do the job, or that they are good candidates to be trained on the job. Managers must then ensure employees get the ongoing training they need to be successful.

Communication and Engagement

Your customer service representatives should know what they are talking about. A lack of understanding of the product or service can be frustrating for the representative and customer and can harm your company’s reputation.

When faced with a question they don’t know the answer to or a problem they don’t know how to resolve, customer service representatives must know exactly who to reach out to for help. Problems with internal communication in these instances will cause delays in getting a problem resolved and further erode the customer service experience.

Stress and Burnout

Most of us face stress and burnout in our work and those who haven’t most certainly know other people who have. Working through excessively heavy workloads, seeing a large number of calls  waiting on hold or long lines in the waiting area and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel will come across in your communication with customers sooner or later.

When on the phone, experienced customer service representatives often use specific tricks to make themselves sound upbeat. But that’s much harder when you’re face-to-face and your true feelings will inevitably be exposed.

It is up to employees to know when to ask for help (and when to take a vacation), and it is up to management to support employees through times of increased stress on the job and respond to their needs to avoid a meltdown on the job.

‘Can’t Wait’ Expectations

The microwave oven was revolutionary when it was first introduced because it warmed food much faster than a conventional oven could and helped ushered in an era of instant gratification.

Today, we want everything now (or yesterday) and long waits or slow service can lead to negative reviews by word of mouth or online. If their needs are not met fast enough, consumers will still take their business elsewhere.

Internal Challenges

Management must understand and address internal challenges that could negatively impact the customer experience. This includes paying close attention to the interaction of their customer service representatives and customers to identify additional training opportunities, making sure there is enough staff to handle the workload to avoid employee burnout, and using competitive compensation and benefits to attract workers with the right combination of skills.

It is also important for management to keep up with latest market and industry trends and support customer service representatives through ongoing training and professional development so they can excel on the job.

Customer Service in Economic Development

You may not realize it, but customer service is also an important component of the work many of us do in business attraction, retention, and expansion. This includes:

  • How easy you make it for existing or prospective businesses to find the information they need on your website
  • How easy you make it for businesses to contact you to ask questions or get help
  • How quickly you respond to requests for information or assistance from businesses
  • The way you build and sustain relationships with existing businesses and your ability to help them find solutions to their problems

When developing a strategy for business attraction or retention, creating and sustaining good relationships should be a key consideration. You can help make an excellent first impression by anticipating businesses’ needs before they have to pick up the phone or send an email and by being responsive and helpful when they do reach out.

> Download our white paper about how to transform your economic development organization’s website into a catalyst for business attraction.

How Can a Customer Service Problem Be Fixed?

This can be like a math problem; Perform the opposite function to get the answer. This starts with communicating with your your customers. Use customer surveys and read online reviews to find out where improvements need to be made or why you are losing someone’s business. Reach out to and ask unhappy customers what you can do to make it right or keep their business.

Use internal strategic plans to examine recurring problems and detail specific strategies to them and maintain or regain your customer base and improve your company or organization’s reputation.

Hire new customer service representative and managers, if needed, and invest in training for existing employees. Your customer service representatives are valuable assets to your company and should be treated as such. They are often the first point of contact with customers and these interactions make a big impression on customers. Do they have the right kind of experience and personality to do the job? Do they handle conflict effectively and stay calm even when the customer isn’t? Are they empathetic and kind?

Use automation wherever possible. This can assist in shortening the turnaround time in taking care of a customer and provide initial responses and triage at any time, even after business hours. Examples of this include providing email templates and scripts for employees, using automated chatbots, and email auto-replies.

A lot has changed since the era of the friendly and eager-to-please gas station attendant. But even though the times have changed, the expectations customers and businesses have for respect, helpfulness, and responsiveness remain the same. Economic development organizations that fail to make good customer service or business engagement a priority will find it harder to achieve their goals and build their reputations.

Camoin Associates can help you develop a business attraction or business retention and expansion strategy that emphasizes positive business engagement and customer service.

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