A few years ago, I wrote a piece called Customer Disservice, talking about everyday annoyances like phone customer service reps hanging up on you, or transferring you to nowhere, leaving you to have to call back, frustrated, multiple times. I also discussed customer service employees texting, chatting, or otherwise engaged when dealing with customers, and wondered when (or if) it would all change.
Little did I know, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Three years later, I realize the problems consumers face are much larger, and much more potentially harmful, than they’ve ever been. In fact, I’d now give my left arm for a customer service person to be simply texting or chatting.
The first issue that sits on my chest like a lead weight is the auto industry. Safety recalls, refusal to issue recalls on equipment that can hurt or even kill you, and too-little-too-late apologies and corrective action taken after several people have died, have left a bad taste in my mouth.
Some companies get called on the carpet very publicly, being brought before Congress and dragged all over the national news. Other companies issue silent recalls, or ‘service bulletins’, that are taken care of swiftly and with little ado inside the walls of a dealership service department. In most cases, the consumer has no idea there’s anything wrong with his car. Why? Because it saves the automaker face and money.
Now, I have to admit, I had high standards before I had kids. I voted with my feet. If I felt a company wasn’t up to par servicewise, I would simply leave and find another place. After I had kids, though, I became every company’s worst nightmare. The slightest whiff of danger sent me into Mama Bear mode, and it still does. Granted, it doesn’t make me the most popular kid on the block, but if that’s what had to happen to keep my family safe, that’s the way it has to be.
One would imagine this strategy would work. You’d go in, explain that you need something, that you brought appropriate currency for an exchange, and it would become so. You’d get that thing.
And last night, I caught a 20/20 (I always seem to catch these things) where employees from a large, well-known coffee chain admitted that they basically make their own decisions with regards to what they serve to customers.
Overtired and cranky? You might just get decaf. Not a great tipper? How’s about an ‘F U’ written in your steamed milk instead of a heart?
Since when did customer service personnel attain the right to play God with consumers? You walk in, with your own hard-earned money, seeking an exchange for a particular product, and it’s essentially up to the person who waits on you whether or not you receive it. Or up to the mechanic who determines whether or not you ‘know anything about cars’.
I’m not just talking about big coffee chain or auto mechanic here. I’m talking about restaurants (ever hear of the old spitting-in-the-food trick, or the host/hostess telling you there are no tables when there are?), major retailers (uh oh, another security breach!), and fast food places (how many times have you driven away with something you didn’t order, or missing something you did?).
And what will people tell you? “That’s life.” and “You can’t trust anyone.” and “Well, what did you expect?”
So, is that it? Is that life? A consumer who reasonably expects to walk into a place of business and receive their chosen product, is simply not guaranteed that product? That it is up to whoever’s working that day, and their mood, to decide whether/how much you deserve it?
What ever happened to accountability? Do these people have supervisors? And do those supervisors have supervisors? When I worked in customer service, many moons ago (do I sound old yet?), we were secret shopped, we were rated based on our level of customer service, and we sure as hell were not permitted to independently determine how we would treat each individual customer.
I had many a woman pick up drapes, only to find that two were backordered, and they’d been waiting for them for months. Sometimes I got flack, sometimes they expressed their displeasure, sometimes they cancelled their entire orders. But did I go in the back and blow my nose, or wipe my ass, on the available curtains as an act of revenge? I did not. And I would not.
Today, we’ve found insects, rodents, fingers, and bodily fluids in fast food. Hidden cameras reveal employees doing unspeakable things with your food, your cars, and your merchandise, overcharging/falsifying invoices for the very thrill of it, and this is what we’ve come to expect. And it’s sad.
I’d say my customer satisfaction rate, overall, is about 60%. That means that almost half of my customer service transactions are negative. And they can cajole and bribe you into as many customer service surveys as they can jam on a receipt, but have you seen things change for the better? They’ve only gotten worse.
Oftentimes, we do find something better. We will find a store, or restaurant, or auto shop that will treat us well, but how much time, money, and aggravation must we spend to get there?
And why does no one care? I really thought things were getting bad when associates were inattentive. Now, however, it’s a completely different ballgame. You must smile, flatter, tip, not ask for too much, and basically wait and hope you will get what you paid for. You’re on constant alert of being screwed, and you waste way too much time trying, in vain, to obtain the items your family needs.
My daughter quotes an episode of Peppa Pig all the time, where Peppa was pretending to be a princess. She says, “You must bow when you speak to me.” I feel like that’s where the service industry’s got us. On our knees.
The unemployment rate is still high in this country. Why aren’t appropriate people being brought into these positions? Are those people never held accountable for their behavior? Have consumers simply given up?
I don’t know any of these answers, but knew things needed to change three years ago. They really need to change now.