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  • Tom Brooksher

Customer Service, Circa 2019

Over the years, we’ve developed a lot of customer service training, especially for call centers. We’ve built programs for new-hires and on-boarding, product knowledge, SOX compliance, personally identifiable information, selling, upselling and handling difficult customers. We’ve also developed decision trees to automate troubleshooting and customer-accessed knowledge bases to help customers troubleshoot and fix problems themselves.

As a result, we’ve become students of customer service and, as such, noticed an interesting divergence in the overall approach to providing customer service and support between bricks-and-mortar companies and many online services. It seems to be a trend, which we find interesting (albeit concerning).

For the most part, bricks-and-mortar businesses in the last decade have discovered the importance of customer service. For example, when you walk into most banks today, you’re greeted by a smile and a friendly voice welcoming you. By contrast, walking into a bank 10 years ago was like going to the DMV. No greeting. No warmth. If you’re lucky, they’ll get to you. The attitude was almost: “We’re the BANK, and you need us more than we need you.”

Somewhere along the way, banks, like many other local businesses, came to appreciate that they’re in a competitive environment and that treating customers with respect and a smile (if the feeling is genuine) is not only good for business, it’s good for employee morale.

And while there are online organizations—Zappos, for example—with a strong commitment to customer service excellence, there’s also an alarming trend to discourage interaction with customers in the online world. Got an issue with Facebook? Good luck even finding a way to contact them. The same is true of many smaller online operations, such as Software as a Service providers. Fewer of these companies publish their addresses, phone numbers or email.

More and more, the only way they let you contact them is through a website form. (I’m amazed at how many times the forms either don’t work or aren’t answered.) Or you’re forced to wade through dozens of help article listings that don’t apply before you’re allowed the privilege of messaging the company. And even then, you’re likely to get an automated reply rather than a thoughtful, personal response.

I understand that customer service can be expensive…especially if you view it as a cost. But there’s great value in good, human, caring customer service, and it usually outweighs the expense significantly.

Here’s the takeaway: If you’re a customer care professional and you spend more than half your time looking for ways to reduce your company’s customer service expense, it may be time to visit a bank.

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