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


2 thoughts on “Customer Service in times of Economic Boom

  1. Concerning your class assignment which wants us take time to thank people for good customer service.

    I think that this lecture could also come under the heading “Exercising Patience & Common Courtesy” (you might consider writing a BLOG about that). Of course “Patience & Common Courtesy” is a 2 way street … it must be practiced by both people in any sort of an exchange. Further, “Patience & Common Courtesy” should not be something that one waits for; rather, it should be extended first.

    My experiences with Customer Services do not vary much; I’ve noticed that my experiences are invariably pleasant, because I’m the first to say “Please” and “Thank you”, perhaps tell a small quick joke, and ask things like “How are you today?” Having worked part-time jobs in retail for a number of years, I’ve found that by being the first to be pleasant, it’s a good bet that the person that I’m dealing with will respond in kind, no matter if they’re initially angry.

    I’ve also noticed that by being pleasant first, whatever I am seeking from a Customer Rep is generally accomplished quickly and efficiently.

    This is not any sort of commentary about your experience with SprintPCS or Delphi or Panera Bread. It’s more of a wondering about what had gone on with that Customer Representative prior to your conversation with him/her. Did that Customer Rep have a bad experience or two with some nasty vicious customers before you arrived? Was their day peppered with angry people “taking it out” on them such that the residual of those experiences came down on you?

    I’m contending here that if we all made effort to show some courtesy, politeness, and restraint in our language in our daily transactions with others, there would be alot less of what you’ve described in your BLOG. And you haven’t even started to address “Road Rage” yet – “Patience & Common Courtesy” could even extend there and make experiences while driving more pleasant.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

    I actually spend quite a bit of time usually with people on customer srevice. Honestly, it’s one of the things I teach.

    Here is my usual approach to these things. Maintain a cheerful disposition as long as possible. Maintain your firm position, but be cheerful. If you don’t receive satisfaction, elevate the problem, but again, be positive about it. This works if you are up against a policy issue.

    If the problem actually is the attitude of the employee, then remain positive, but express to the supervisor/manager that the attitude was not conducive to successful business, and that perhaps a refresher would be useful.

    One other BIG thing I do, and HIGHLY recommend–talk to the supervisors when you see “GOOD” service as well!

    Positive feedback is welcomed, and if you see it, you should ensure it gets rewarded!

    Thanks again for your thoughtful comment, and the memory jogger for me to comment.

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