Bad Customer service…What’s it all about?

 

Chances are, if you are over the age of 30, you may have noticed a change to the worse in the customer service delivered by businesses within the past 10 years or so. Are the people in management these days so inept that they cannot handle the basics of balancing business capacity to customer demand?   30, 40 years ago or more, bad customer experiences that are commonplace today like lines, out of stock product, long phone hold times, inexperienced employees, botched orders,  etc were not the norm.  If these problems were experienced, they were frequently corrected promptly, or the business did not last long.  Today unfortunately,  those businesses delivering bad customer experiences that you just wish would go away, not only survive, but thrive, while the ones that give you a good experience, sadly disappear.

So what gives?  It seems like the business world is operating backwards? I have been observing this phenomenon for a while attempting to figure it out, and have compiled several examples.

The first one I give is with a local grocery store. Shopping at this store was generally good.  The store was almost always stocked with the products I would frequently purchase.  If I walked up to the deli or bakery, there was someone there to take my order, and the order was correct.  Checking out was always easy too, as there was rarely more than 3 people in a line, or they would open another cash register. Sadly though, this store does not exist anymore, despite the fact that it had plenty of loyal customers

On the other hand another neighborhood store consistently delivers a stressful, agonizing experience with every trip.  The store cannot seem to keep its shelves stocked consistently, and is frequently changing product lines.  A visit to the deli counter involves a long wait while a clerk who does not even work there is paged.  Then, checkout is a problem, with 7 or more customers backed up at the cash registers, and although the store has 10 or more registers, they do not open more than 2 or 3.  When you open your bags when you get home, and you find that deli order you made is wrong.  Despite everyone complaining about the place not only does it continue to thrive, but new stores in the same chain are being built in the area.

The same troubles are experienced by air travelers today too.  Years ago, problems like lost luggage, flight delays, over-bookings, etc were rare, but today, anybody flying can tell you they are the norm, not the exception.  Years ago, there used to be airlines that delivered a level of service that did not include these headaches, but they have either gone out of business, or they have let their customer service deteriorate.

Anyone dealing with technology faces the same issues when they dial the support line for the product they own.  Long hold times for any technology apparatus, be it a cell phone, computer, television or other product is the norm.  The phone message says “Your call is important to us…”  But if it was really important, wouldn’t you be hiring more people to answer the phones?  Technology companies previously were not like this however.  Years ago, a word processing company called WordPerfect existed.  They gave 24 hour tech support to their software.  In the early days of computing, this was a widely used and extremely popular program, but they do not exist anymore either.

So we have established that there are plenty of examples of companies that deliver bad customer experiences thriving, and those that deliver good experiences going away.  What gives, and why isn’t the logical idea of delivering something good and making a good living at it working?

Much of this has to do with the business environment we are in today.  Generally, most retail shoppers look for price before anything these days.  Could this have something to do with this problem?  Has this eroded business’ ability to operate with capacity to handle their customer demand?   In other words, my speculation is the only way you can survive running a business these days is when you have more customers than you have the capacity to serve.  If you try to increase your staffing to meet the capacity, you may attract a few more customers, but it would not balance the expense of

In the examples I have placed above, there are no other outlets if you are not satisfied with the job the businesses are doing because they no longer exist.   There is no incentive for the companies delivering the bad experiences to even change.  They know they are the only guys in town, and that you cannot do anything about it!

What is your take on this?  I am interested in anyone elaborating on my experiences.   Do you manage a business and deal with these issues, and if so, how do you balance the needs of the customer to be happy over the bottom line the bean counters have given you?  Has the bottom line gotten so low that you cannot keep food on your table, and still make your customers happy?

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2 Responses to Bad Customer service…What’s it all about?

  1. Jay M. says:

    I know exactly what you mean. A large electronics store based in Richmond went bankrupt, but their customer service was far superior to the yellow and blue big box across the street. I’ll do without before I shop in that store because of the way I was treated, but they simply don’t care. They’re too big and as you point out, the only game in town (more or less).

    Many of the stocking problems have to do with “just in time” ordering, and automated ordering. JIT says that you can’t stockpile or warehouse at your location because now cash is tied up in inventory. It’s supposed to arrive just in time for sale, based on the automated sales figures from the cash registers, but you’ve seen how accurate those counts are. Also, someone figures out how many of an item a store should get, and it doesn’t matter is suddenly it’s popular, the computer was told to send X of them, not X+how ever many were necessary to meet the demand. It used to be said in retail that you should never run out of something, that means you are losing sales, yet that doesn’t matter at all any more. Out? Well, you can wait on it, or do without.

    ARGH!!!! You started me on a rant! Thanks!

    Jay M.

  2. Leonard Harris says:

    Very interesting post. You need to name names.

    Years ago Ukrop’s put Safeway and Hannofords out of business in Richmond because of customer service. If Safeway had tried it a decade later (or even now) I think it might have a different result.

    One of the reasons is that people seem to tolerate and even believe poor service is ok. The last time I complained about service at Wal-mart the other customers gave me dirty looks and I felt like they thought I was in the wrong. What’s wrong about complaining that the cashier should be ringing my stuff up instead of talking on her cell phone?

    Speaking of Wal-Mart, I’d add them to the list of declining customer service experiences. I never really liked the greeters, but now if there is one it is some surly unfriendly person who gets offended if you ask them for a shopping cart or interact with them in any way.

    I use to often tell the story of how I fell in love with Wal-mart. I was living in DC and needed a new bathroom mat. After walking to every store between DuPont Circle and Georgetown and not finding it, I got on the Metro and then on a bus to the nearest Wal-mart. There, not only did I find the bathroom mat, but several other items I had been needing. I left there spending just under $100 and barely able to carry everything I bought. It was a great experience and a huge contrast from my experiences over the past two years.

    What to do about this?

    You can complain to management. If it is an isolated incident then this will work. However if it happens every time then the management is doesn’t care or is too incompetent to fix the problem. Some places make me think that Despair poster (http://www.despair.com/ap24x30prin.html) “If we don’t take care of the customer, maybe they’ll stop bugging us.” is their modus operandi.

    So I usually choose to go somewhere else. I admit it isn’t always the best solution. Groceries are the biggest issue for me as they’re the only thing I can’t buy online. Glen Allen Store isn’t big enough to have the selection or prices I need. So while I shop there because they care, I still have to hit Martins, Wal-mart, Food Lion, or Kroger. Like everything else, there are trade-offs. Do I want good service and high prices or horrible service and slightly lower prices?

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