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home : opinion : opinion May 20, 2022

12/9/2021 5:46:00 PM
A Conservative Point Of View
Whatever Happened To Good Service?
Worse than ever, it's impossible to find these days
(Top) Ever fill out one of those annoying customer-service questionnaires? Some companies really wouldn’t want to know how I truly feel. (Contributed Photo)
(Bottom) Some companies seemingly don’t care that they’re driving away countless customers. Customer loyalty is a thing of the past. (Randy Glasbergen Cartoon)

(Top) Ever fill out one of those
annoying customer-service
questionnaires? Some companies
really wouldn’t want to know
how I truly feel.
(Contributed Photo)

(Bottom) Some companies seemingly
don’t care that they’re driving away
countless customers. Customer
loyalty is a thing of the past.

(Randy Glasbergen Cartoon)

From The Desk Of
Thomas Lark

“Ma’am, you wouldn’t believe the complaints we get on a daily basis.”

That’s what the lady on the ’phone told my wife last week. She was really quite helpful and very pleasant. She was actually American, by God, and so she spoke English.

She was referring to the habit that her company––call it “Worst Buy”­––has of farming out appliance-installation work to subcontractors. And the two “gentlemen” (and I use the term very loosely) at our flat last week to install a new washer and dryer truly put the “sub” in “subcontractor.” They claimed there was a water leak that prohibited the washing machine’s installation. I picked up a ’phone to find a plumber, hoping to get one out here ASAP, that the situation might be rectified. As it was the day after Thanksgiving, I didn’t have much hope, and it turned out that I was right.

But the two men, seemingly capable of communicating only in a monosyllabic patois of grunts, when they communicated at all, wouldn’t wait for that. Without a word, not even so much as a perfunctory apology, they were out the door and up the street before I was even off the ’phone. They left our new washer and dryer out on the patio, where they were exposed to four consecutive nights of sub-freezing temperatures, thus ruining the pipes, sensors and more sensitive parts. Good Lord.

Something seemed very suspicious about the one man’s diagnosis of a water leak. Were that true, why in three years has there never been water around the washing machine? We called our plumber: a nice, young man we’ve used for three years.

“Tom, they’re scamming you,” he said, examining the washer’s water hook-ups. “There ain’t no leak back here. Those guys just didn’t wanna work.”

The men in question wore their hair in most unprepossessing dreadlocks: a hideous hairstyle that always means one thing––cannabis use. Our plumber and I surmised that the two men probably wanted only to get out of here and go smoke pot. One of them even left his drill behind; we found it in the dryer!

“No professional would ever do that,” said our plumber, who laughed when I told him.

Two days later, said “professional” called here––at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning!

“Yo, man,” he said, “like, I left my drill atcho place.”

My wife was livid. She’d already filed a formal complaint with Worst Buy, telling them emphatically to never send those men out here again.

But wait. It gets better. When came the day that we were at last supposed to get a new washer and dryer, replacing the two units ruined outdoors, the same two men showed up again! And this after we’d repeatedly stressed to Worst Buy that they not send these men.

The same man repeated his same “diagnosis” of the same “leak.” Off they went, yet again, after only a couple of minutes. And we’re still in the same boat.

As Jonathan Higgins would say, “O my God!”

Time was, even as recently as the good, old 1970’s, such installation and repair work would have been performed by someone who looked like the late Jesse White, the Maytag Repairman, complete with a police-style hat and a full uniform with his name on a sewn patch over the left breast-pocket. Said service would have been performed courteously, quickly and, above all, professionally.

But not these days. What on earth has happened to service in this country? 

The decline of service

Thirty-year veteran businessman Jeff Bevis, writing recently in Forbes magazine, has noticed the same general decline in service at all levels in all businesses across America. Whether in person, over the ’phone or over the Internet, Bevis observes that nowadays, service that is substandard is the new standard.

“What’s leading to this decline?” he rhetorically asks. “In my experience, I’ve noticed that many businesses are making the same mistakes, over and over again. There is a lack of training and little investment in basic customer service skills while setting sky-high sales expectations and measuring employee performance with a maniacal zeal. Often, companies will go on the defensive when called out on poor service—blaming it on the tight labour market or a shortage of qualified employees. But it often comes down to not taking the time to instill core service training for all customer-facing employees. These businesses do not recognize that the cost to acquire a new customer is always higher than simply taking better care of and retaining your current customers.”

Nowadays, Bevis continues, customers expect bad service. They accept it, because it’s ubiquitous, and so they expect far less. The impersonal nature of the Internet is one factor.

“With the increasing automation of services (think never-ending ’phone menus or getting stuck in voicemail jail), it’s become difficult for customers to actually speak to a living person who cares about service,” he writes. “Customers are becoming used to having less interaction with a living person and only defaulting to a customer service representative if they encounter a problem. This is a direct reversal of how it was in the past when the customer journey would start with engaging another person.”

Talking of which, 40 years ago, to cite a related and very good example, AT&T employed countless American women as operators and CSR’s. They spoke excellent English and were efficient and helpful.

But then some genius in the Reagan administration got a bee under his bonnet about AT&T being a monopoly. It was. But unlike, say, Standard Oil, or latterly Facebook and Google, just because you’re a monopoly is no sign you really need to be broken up. Facebook needs to have its collective balls broken. But AT&T needed no such break-up.

Yet the Reaganites did it anyway, and service abruptly went downhill. By the ’90’s, those CSR call centres began being transferred to India in order to save a buck, and countless other companies followed suit. Only a bunch of Mammon-worshipping greed-heads would ever be so stupid; so pennywise and pound-foolish. Having your customers “served” by people who speak Hindi as a first language and English with only varying degrees of proficiency––often in accents so impenetrably thick they’re unintelligible, especially to elderly Americans––is a cheap business model, not a successful one.

“Customers deserve better service,” says Bevis, “even if they no longer expect it. This gives businesses an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competition by surprising and delighting customers with the quality of their service. An investment in customer service is an investment in your future.” 

What we’ve lost and what others have

Doing more research, I discovered that Japan, Singapore, Australia and other nations still have excellent customer service. Indeed, they pride themselves on that.

So what’s wrong with America? As business expert Hidesato Sakakibara put it recently, maybe it’s because American employees are treated so poorly, and thus they never stay long anymore at such jobs. As he added, a pervasive “Who gives a crap?” mentality has set in and has now spread like a metastatic cancer throughout the American business world. Hence the clichéd American “disgruntled worker.”

Another factor is the Hippie Revolt (and boy, was it revolting). Sakakibara notes that apart from a certain superficial infatuation with American-style pop music, unique to the young, Hippieism never really caught on in Japanese society, which to its credit is deeply traditional and thus conservative. But more than half a century after it so horribly damaged the West, Hippieism’s children and now grandchildren are destroying the world of work (amongst other things) with their slackness, selfishness, mollycoddled laziness, sense of entitlement and general lack of discipline.

(As an interesting aside, Sakakibara has dual Japanese and American citizenship, and he has excellent taste in single-malt Scotch. And he thinks that, like Russia 30 years ago, China will eventually collapse into several different countries, which will of course be better for the people living in those regions and surely, by extension, better for Japan, America and the West. China, which is one ginormous sweatshop, will eventually exhaust itself, sooner, perhaps, rather than later. It’s common knowledge throughout the Far East that China hates Japan, and the feeling is mutual. The Japanese are an entirely superior people and culture, and the Chinese know this.)

Chris Bartlett, a British writer living in Japan, shares Sakakibara’s assessment of poorly-paid, ill-treated American workers. All too often, Bartlett writes, they’re paid only the minimum wage; they’re quite literally not invested in the companies for which they slave away; and so they just don’t care. Contrast that, he says, with Japan, where even people who work in shops are paid surprisingly well and have very good benefits, thus giving them the incentive to stay for long decades and make a career of it. The Japanese, he notes, have customer service that is so much better, because they’re willing to pay for it.

Why is American customer service so poor? Because it’s cheap. The money-worshippers who run Big Business love their false god of Greed: a demonic deity who always demands more and never gets enough; he cannot be fully appeased, only temporarily sated. Most of these men (and they’re always men) care nothing for their workers. If it’s cheaper to send their telephonic customer service overseas, to be handled by people with an insufficient grasp of English, you can bet said men will do so.

And if you’re in the market for a new washer, a dryer or a refrigerator or the like, caveat emptor. Find somebody reputable, not a dubious subcontractor. Maybe you know someone from church who’s good at this, and maybe he has a pick-up truck. Or if you’re really lucky, there’s always dear, old Dad.

And if he’s like Frank Barone, he won’t ask for much:

“Chicken croquettes I like.”

---The views and opinions expressed in “A Conservative Point of View” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Lincoln Herald.

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