Customer Service in times of Economic Boom

So we are in a period of economic growth. We are seeing 4+% GDP growth, which in any economy is seen as a strong, sustained growth rate. In fact, while we often talk about the “recovery” that fact is, we haven’t really had a need to recover from anything since 2001. The economy has been growing ever since–it’s not recovery, but a period of sustained growth. Don’t believe me? Then believe this. Customer service has declined, by my anecdotal experience, and a company could only get away with this, if they feel they are growing and can afford to lose customers.

Of course, one of my recent “bad experiences” is with SprintPCS. Who would have thought one would get bad customer service from a cellular company, eh? The bottom line here is that I had a piece of hardware (the car charger) fail in a fairly spectacular way. I had to hit the brakes on the car, which let the cell phone slide down on to the floorboard of the car. As it did so, it ripped out the already lose power connector from the cord. When I went to exchange it, I was told that, while they would replace it this time, I had “abused” it, and that they would not replace any more of them.

I had two other experiences that surprised me. First, I called Delphi, because my XM Satellite Roady has a problem either with the antenna wire, or else inside the Roady. I was told I had to mail/ship the defective unit to the repair center, and they would send a repaired unit back to me. When I asked how I would be reimbursed for my shipping costs, I was told that I would have to pay to ship it to them, and they would cover the return costs. I told the customer service rep that this didn’t seem quite right, given that the unit had failed, and I had paid to have a working unit. Rather than work with me, or even work to explain anything, I was told, quite curtly, that “This is the best warranty in the business, and all the other customers are just happy to get their radio working again.” Needless to say, I was a little less than happy with being told essentially that I should be quiet, and just hope they get a working unit to me.

The other experience was at the local Panera Bread. I had handed the young lady my credit card, and she set it down to run and get something else. When she returned, she couldn’t find the card. She “looked every where” and then called her manager over. Her manager made it very clear that I could not have given her the card, because the card wasn’t there. I was invited to come behind the counter myself if I felt it was there. (I had witnesses from the people in line behind me.) So guess what? I found the card in 10 seconds, under the register, where I had told them several times I had thought it had gone. The outcome? She told me she was sorry, and she made sure I paid the full value.

Yes, I have used this forum to vent, but I usually like to vent with purpose. First, I teach supply chain and logistics courses, and a large portion of what we cover is the importance of customer service, and of major importance is customer service at the transaction point. Most bad service experiences can be overcome by proper handling at that point. Most lectures on customer service also point out the importance of existing customers. Did you know it costs significantly more to attract new customers than it does to keep existing ones? A $30 charger (retail price–no doubt a $15 unit at most) could cost SprintPCS an account that routinely generates $140/month for them.

So what could cause a company to have this approach to customer service? There are many possible reasons, but one of them could be they are being lulled into a sense of complacency with sustained growth, over the past few years. Perhaps they are wondering why they should spend time and money on training people in customer service, when the customers cannot leave? Or perhaps, the budgets are tight, and the companies are not willing to spend the money on training, in an effort to cut corners.

Either way (and even with any of the various other permutations that one could theorize) these companies are being remarkably short sighted. Customers have long memories, and need to be treated as the people that are responsible for paying the bills. If a firm loses sight of the customer, they have lost their business.

Today’s Assignment? Take the time to thank people for good customer service. We always remember the bad experiences. Make an effort to reward the good ones!

Then come back here, and leave your experiences as a comment. Let’s share our good, and our bad, experiences!

Class dismissed