It used to be that customer service in the United States was legendary. I remember flying on a UK airline with a stellar reputation years ago and being disappointed that they were unable to sit my wife and I next to each other, just because her flight had cost more and she was seated in the “premium economy” seats. This despite the fact that I had flown on that airline across the Atlantic 8 times in 8 weeks and there was plenty of room. When I told the gentleman behind the counter that they had upgraded my seat on the way to the UK from the US, he said “Oh, that’s because you had the American customer service person helping you. We’re horrible over here.” I was speechless. He was admitting that the American customer service agents have the flexibility on this UK airline to make such decisions and the UK customer service agents did not!
But such days are waning, I’m afraid. There is an attitude that has slipped into the culture in the US of entitlement, and I’m not talking about customer entitlement. The customer service person feels entitled to be cool, stand-offish, sometimes patronizing, and, unfortunately more and more frequently, rude. I called my doctor’s office recently to inquire about a referral and the person who answered the phone gave me the impression that I was a very annoying interruption in her day. Instead of the friendly voice I would have expected 20 years ago saying “Yes, Mr. Heffernan, how can I help you?” her response to my initial statement was “talk to me.” It was said in a tone that also said, “make it fast, because I’ve got things to do.”
I recently invited my team members out for a drink at the end of the day to celebrate our accomplishments. When we arrived at this well-known restaurant/bar chain, the table server informed us that they had no tonic water for the gin & tonic my colleague ordered, nor the queso dip for the soft pretzels we ordered as an appetizer. How does a bar run out of tonic? “Well, the delivery was expected today but hasn’t arrived yet.” Really? How does one run so low that if the delivery truck is a few hours late the patrons are told that basics are “out of stock?”
I could go on, and would probably feel great for venting in this blog post. But I’ll remain understated and professional.
How did we get here? As the quality of customer service goes down across the board, no one feels a need to raise it, because no one else does it better. If there is competition, people do better. I’ve always believed that competition is beneficial because it keeps us sharp.
I would say, however, that this seems to be a problem in certain industries or settings, and not across the board. But I would also say that the U.S. is slowly deteriorating into a situation where it will no longer be able to differentiate itself on this point. Sure, the family-owned restaurant where we go will always provide that “being treated like a king” experience, because they know their livelihood depends on it. But the same can be said for a family-owned restaurant in Nicaragua – the second poorest nation in the Americas. (My family lived there for many years, so I write with some authority on this subject.) In other words, the U.S. is getting to a point where it no longer stands out for its once-legendary customer service.
However, we at AdvantageCS do try to treat our customers like kings and queens. We really work with them when they have unique situations. We bend over backwards to help them when they are stretched for resources. We are flexible with our policies when we’re able to be. We approach our relationships with our customers as partnerships, because if we help them succeed, we succeed.
This has been a differentiator for us for over three decades now. Our clients say this in reference calls and visits, so you don’t have to just take my word for it.
As we start a new year, all of us at AdvantageCS wish all of you the best of success!