Time Magazine’s online edition claims customer service is going away. If we are to believe a recent article in Time, before long we’ll be self-servicing ourselves in every way imaginable from grocery checkout, to hospital check-in, from computer trouble shooting to phone bill and credit-card problem resolution.
The article points to retail trends started by the Piggly Wiggly grocery store way back in 1916. (They had the audacity to suggest customers pick their own items from grocery store shelves rather than wait for a clerk to do it for them.) Since then self-service gas stations have become the norm. Many stores now offer self-service checkout lanes and, in theory, we can resolve almost any service issue with our cell phones, insurance and credit-cards just by pressing a few buttons on our phones.
But does this signal the end of customer service? No, I don’t think so.
What we’re seeing is a change in how customers are served. For some the change is a vast improvement. I’d much rather save time and do a few things myself than wait for a clumsy and inattentive clerk to do it for me. But for others, these changes are not desirable. Many people approach self-service checkout lanes with a fear normally reserved for fun events like root canals.
With new technology comes new ways of thinking. It also fosters changes in our culture that make us willing to accept (even look for) different ways of doing things. For example, as our society has gotten busier, we have tended to prefer faster service from many businesses. And the business world has responded with drive-through, drive-up and drive-in service from burgers to banks, from pies to pills.
So while I agree customer service is changing (and not always for the better) I disagree that it’s going away.
Smart companies are using their knowledge and technology to serve us better. They are finding ways to serve us how we want to be served. Rather than relying on old habits (because we’ve always done things that way), they are trying new things to help us get what we want. For the most part, this is a good thing.
But not always.
If companies are making changes in how they serve us just so they can save money, they will fail. If their intention is solely to reduce costs (by shifting them to their customers), then they’ll have problems. They’ll fail because they are focusing on the wrong thing. You can’t grow a healthy and sustainable business by focusing on cost-reduction. All these companies are doing is manipulating their customers. This never works for long.
On the other hand, if businesses use their resources to make life better for their customers, they will win. If they make changes in how they serve us, with the intention of serving us better, then we’ll respond in a good way. We’ll do more business with them.
Because they’re focusing on serving us better, they’ll make changes that help us. They’ll talk to us about what we want and how they can help us get it. They’ll listen. And they’ll constantly wrap their businesses around the mission of serving their customers they way they want to be served.