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How Customer Service Disappeared

customer-service.0822.12I frequently hear people complain about the lack of customer service. I complain about the same thing. Cell phone and cable companies are my favorite targets. Oh, and let’s not forget the airlines, take your pick, any of the major airlines are easy targets for customer service complaints.

Pretty much everyone I know laments the loss of decent customer service. We all seem to remember a time when people just cared more about “the customer” and their job in general.

I wonder if that’s true? Do people really care less these days?

Do companies just invest less in customer service training? Is it possible that when they do train their people that the training just misses the mark?

I personally don’t think any of that is true. I have a completely different thought. I think it’s a leadership issue. To be more precise, I think it’s a careless leadership issue.

Careless as in there are fewer leaders that truly care about their people today than there has been since the advent of capitalism. Authentic leaders know that if they want their people to care about the customer then they need to FIRST care about their people.

I remember years ago when Northwest Airlines was still in business the pilots went out on strike. The pilot’s union and Northwest management both began running ads in the media stating their case and ripping the other side to shreds. Northwest hinted at the fact that their pilots were greedy idiots without the ability to form a cognitive thought. The pilots said it was the airline that was greedy and that they were cutting corners on maintenance that made the airline unsafe to fly. It was pretty ugly and emotional on both sides.

Then one day a local radio station interviewed one of the pilots. This was a very rational guy who explained how he saw the root cause of almost every problem at the airline.

He said the basic problem was that the airline was using unhappy, unengaged, and disillusioned employees to try and make happy, engaged and loyal customers.

He made a powerful case that it was nearly impossible for a unhappy “service worker” as he called them, to happily service a customer. He said it was normal, and should be expected, that if you’re unhappy you won’t exactly kill yourself trying to make somebody else happy.

I have agreed with and believed that ever since I first heard it.

Which brings us to the state of customer service today.

Today, the disparity in pay between those at the top of a company and those in the company who are most likely to provide service to the company’s customers is greater than it has ever been. The disparity is generally greatest in the cable, cell phone and airline industries. Is that a coincidence?

Executive pay in many cases continue’s to grow at double digit rates while the people in the trenches doing the heavy lifting receive increases of 1-2% on average. If that!

That disparity is easily explained by the relative “importance” of the job. Obviously top executives have a lot more responsibility than a front-line customer service rep. Or do they?

Whether they do or not is almost immaterial for this discussion. Here’s the point, if leaders say or do things that cause their people to feel as if what they do is unimportant they will respond accordingly.

Once a person feels unimportant they will be hard pressed to make someone else, a customer for instance, feel important either.

As leaders continue to build walls between themselves and their people, customer service will continue to decline. I don’t believe the building of walls is intentional, but a wall is a wall. Some of the walls are built with cash and some are built with actions but they are built all the same.

If you’re a leader who wants your people to provide a higher level of service to your customers, then don’t ask what your people can do for your customers. Ask what you can do for your people.

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