Poor Customer Service = Deal Breaker

John Dir

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One of the first signs of a sinking ship in business is poor customer service. To magnify this fact, when customers are not satisfied with the level of service they receive after the sale, poorly handled relations can reverse all the effort and expense invested in advertising, sales, marketing, product development and company image building. This scenario is playing out every day in both large and small businesses across the country. If you think businesses understand the importance of serving their customers, just take some time to do a little research. When companies hire people to perform these duties, the pay associated with customer service jobs is often less than what they are willing to pay for good clerical or reception help.

Many large firms have rushed into implementing completely automated systems for handling customer issues. In dealing with these types of systems, I have not found a single person who tells me they enjoy the experience of wading through touch tone menus to find answers to their needs. The reason why a business implements an automated phone answering system is to channel the large volume of frequently encountered issues through the automated process in order to devote more resources to less frequently asked questions. Even though these systems seem to manage such traffic, there are untold numbers of people who become so frustrated by the experience, they stop trying before they obtain the information they were seeking, rendering the solution inadequate. For every customer who turns away in disgust over the level of service they receive, there is an opening for someone else to capture their business. When a low paid, unenthusiastic service representative answers a call, the end results can be equally devastating to the future relationship with a customer. Using automation to divert the flow of frequently encountered problems does not solve the lack of understanding and communication that causes the problems to occur in the first place. Instead of funneling the issue down some automated sink hole, it would help to have someone who is able to find methods to eliminate the reasons why people are dealing with these troubles in the first place.

People do not generally interpret their importance to your business from the perspective of how much money they represent in profit. Each person approaches their interaction from the perspective that they are the only customer you will ever have. Even the best of systems will occasionally disappoint the expectations of isolated individuals, but when the numbers of disgruntled customers swell into a significant group, the phenomenon can rapidly reverse the fortunes of a company in a very short interval. If a company is not willing to invest an appropriate level of resources to properly training customer service staff, they might as well hire people to schedule appointments with more important staff members in the sales and marketing areas of the company, or directly with the CEO. Failure to achieve and maintain good customer relations will guarantee loss of income. If an executive is not willing to put the responsibility of steering the company’s future into the hands of a clerk, they should not be assigning the task of customer service to unskilled workers.

One of the significant advantages of creating a small business is the ability to focus on the organization’s hunger for growth. The smaller, more flexible organization allows employees to invest more of themselves in building intimate relationships with the people they serve. The level of vitality that remains associated with these relationships will determine how large the company will become, and how long it will be able to last. Unless customers develop a deep reliance on the products and services of a particular business, they will part with what a company has to offer, and stay away from doing future business with the organization when their tolerance for disappointment is finally reached. Failures of big businesses to meet projected growth in earnings and sales goals can often be tied directly to their loss of ability to dance with the one who brought them to where they are today.

Recent red flags pointing to a crisis in customer service is a trend toward off shore outsourcing of support and customer service functions. Many company executives appear to be totally blind to the negative impact of these practices on the future of their business. In pursuing the expansion into global markets, it makes good sense to enlist the services of indigenous service representatives to handle the needs of customers who are buying products and services in those foreign markets. This practice allows a company to capture responses that are sensitive to the culture, perspectives, and needs of the customers who buy American made goods. However, when American based customers are not handled with the same level of respect for their own culture and needs, a serious threat to customer relationships arises. Whether or not the majority of business leaders listen to the public, the negative impact is enormous when an American citizen who speaks fluent English is being served in their own country by a foreign service representative. Many companies readily recognize the benefit of offering the courtesy of bilingual services to a large Hispanic customer base in America, while adopting policies that insult and alienate the other sectors of our local economy.

Somewhere in the scheme of things, American business has lost sight of how people here expect to be treated as valued customers. The wake up call is in the hands of American consumers and their patronage.

Director of Software Concepts BHO Technologists - LittleTek Center http://home.earthlink.net/~jdir

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