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Guest Column: The increasing abandonment of the customer

By Pat Scheidel

Is excellence in customer service a lost value for employees and corporations alike, or does it just feel that way? If excellent service to a customer is a company value, then disservice to a patron is an anti-value.  

Serving another human may not hold the luster it once did, but the need to do so has risen substantially during the recent past, in part, because of the pandemic. Medical, retail, governmental and food service demands have been poorly met. Even before the Covid lockdown, service to customers seemed literally and figuratively distant. 

Orders for goods and services are increasingly made online or by phone to remote operators. Communication can be difficult, statements made misunderstood and orders not able to be met in a timely manner. Staff reductions to save money, limit specific positions like sworn police officers, or relocate jobs elsewhere contribute to the weakening of customer service. The overworking of remaining staff results in lower output. Ripple effects like premature employee retirements reduce the skilled labor force and therefore the quality of service delivery. Irrespective of reasoning by the distant corporation or local employer, the customer feels abandoned.  

Poor service to customers who are loyal to a brand is more deeply felt. Examples include employees failing to keep promises, displaying insulting verbal and non-verbal behavior and being oblivious to a waiting customer.   

To ensure an increased level of shopping, the customer must feel valued and recognized as the central part of the business transaction. It bears repeating that promises made to customers must be kept, whether written or not. Honor must return to sales personnel.  

When fielding a customer complaint, the employee should own the concern. Assigning blame only lessens the customer’s level of satisfaction. The first employee that a customer meets must not exude an attitude that we should feel grateful that they even showed up to work. That attitude, along with all the previously mentioned service flaws, turns customer service, the highly touted core value by many companies, into an anti-value; that is to say, an unhappy experience. Opinions of an organization are formed by the front-line personnel not the company manager nor corporate executive.  

Most business entities post their vision, mission, core values and strategic goals. Why not have the value of customer service stated in each level of this company hierarchy? Value words like integrity, excellence and commitment are easy to promote as central to the company. In the absence of implementation of value statements, Shakespeare has long ago defined such marketing for us: “Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart.”

Customer service is more than a cost center, it is the lifeblood of business. Training budgets must be increased and interpersonal skills must be a critical recruitment trait aggressively sought. Shifts must be properly staffed. Holding companies that own majority stock positions in companies value one thing: quarterly returns. Perhaps they might be included in the needed revival of the once revered mission that excellent service to the customer is the premiere business value.  

But all is not lost. Some businesses get it. A local automotive service provider welcomes customers by presenting a spotless waiting area with furniture and decorations commonly found in a living room. A successful business in an abutting city has expanded to another neighboring municipality with the promise to serve hospitality with every purchase. 

Imagine that, the feeling of hospitableness with your morning bagel.

Pat Scheidel is the former town manager of Essex. He lives in Williston.

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