Then: I opened a new bank account, small though it was. They smiled and thanked me as though I just deposited a million dollars, then handed me a colorful set of coffee mugs to thank me for my business. I looked forward to coming in each week, speaking with the friendly tellers, and watching the interest grow.
Now: I bank without ever seeing a human. Interest? It’s almost a joke. Instead, there are all kinds of fees to worry about. “Convenience” fees they call them. It’s a relatively new phenomenon in which customers fork over money for the convenience of forking over money. It’s not just the banks, but a wide variety of services that are employing these tactics.
Then: I had favorite stores and businesses, places where I had a relationship and knew I’d be treated well.
Now: I have almost no connection, no human association, and no loyalty to one business over another. Customers are discouraged from speaking with real live human beings on the phone or from actually entering businesses and taking up their valuable time. Customers have become quite inconvenient, it seems.
Then there’s the cashier who is texting or talking on the phone while waiting on you, but customers are just as guilty of that one. Or the sales clerk who doesn’t bother to look up from the newspaper even though you’re the only customer in the store. And how about the front line customer service reps who have not been properly trained and can only read from a script, even when that script bears no resemblance to the situation at hand? Self check out, voice mail menus with endless prompts and pointless tasks, messages that go unanswered, the cold brush-off…
I’m not one to go on about the good old days because I’m keenly aware of selective memory and our tendency to romanticize yesteryear. It wasn’t all rosy then and it’s not all bad now, but one thing is certain — customer service once meant something more.
Rather than focus only on the money customers would spend on this particular day, there was a time when businesses valued long-term relationships, striving to keep us coming back for more. They achieved this by making connections. A little friendly chatter and a helpful attitude go a long way. There was a human face on the business at hand.
So conditioned am I to receiving poor customer service these days, that when I get good service, I feel compelled to Facebook it or tweet it as if it’s a major news event. Most importantly, good, friendly service truly does make me want to patronize that business.
Businesses, please…if you really want customers to sit up and take notice, take that convoluted voice mail system and banish it to the fires of hell. Surprise us by having a human answer the phone, and provide that human with the training necessary to represent your business in its best light. Speak with your customers. Look them in the eye on occasion. Stop hitting them up with nonsense fees and wondering why they’re so angry. Thank them for their business. It just may be the single most important marketing tool at your disposal. Customers are not inconveniences. They’re your bread and butter.
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