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April 27, 2011

Is Customer Service Declining Exponentially?

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The decline of the quality of customer service has become such a trite, tired topic that it is almost unworthy of the time to write about it.


Yet, anecdotally, poor customer service continues to be such a dynamic in our society that one may wonder out loud if it is a contributing factor to the ongoing malaise that is beginning to define our existence in the new millennium – technology era.


There can be no doubt the world is getting increasingly complex and the alternatives to poor government, and poor quality products and services are getting harder to find.


Think about it. I mean, candidly, what incentive is there for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Verizon, local government, or your “local” megabank to provide meaningful and better customer service? Where are you going to go?


In recent years, Rocky Mackintosh, Dan Rodricks, and Jay Hancock have chronicled well, the customer service challenges with Verizon.


I grew up with friends whose parents worked for Verizon’s ancestor, The Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., and they were proud of the high quality of customer service that was provided.


In recent years, most of my experiences with Verizon are the stuff of a ‘B’ horror movie written by Franz Kafka staring Dilbert.


Recently I overheard a conversation in which one gentleman explained an expensive bad customer service experience, over a faulty product, as being “Verizoned.” Everyone in the conversation knowingly nodded their heads to acknowledge that they knew exactly what he meant.


In response to Mr. Rodricks, the regional president of Verizon operations wrote: “Our goal at Verizon is to provide the very best service possible to all of our customers… Our employees work hard each day to earn our customers' loyalty and trust. And, we want to continue to be the company our customers can rely on for their communications, broadband and video needs.”


Yeah, right.


In other words, in today’s Orwellian world, “provide the very best service possible to all of our customers,” or “in order to serve you better” has come to mean that you are about to pay more for less service and value.


“Upgrade” means further frustrating complexity in which you will no longer be able to do what you did before with a particular service or product. And if a product or service has been “improved,” it invariably means that it is now of a poorer quality.


Today, any conversation about traveling is an analysis of – is it feasible to get there without flying. Nearly everyone who flies frequently has a story about dealing with “Mickey Mouse” rules and procedures, “security theater,” and Keystone Cops put in a position of authority for which they are poorly prepared and ill-suited, who behave as if they were protecting Freedonia in the Marx Brothers’ classic Duck Soup.


Yet, just what are you going to do about it? Ah, nothing... I’m eternally amused whenever yet another travesty has been foisted on the traveling public by an airport security official and a local TV reporter trundles to the airport and thrusts a microphone in front of passenger about to get on a plane and asks, “How do you feel about the TSA?”


What is any reasonable person to say? “Well, gee, I’d rather forego airport security and take my chances with a nihilistic terrorist who wants to kill me and my family in an airplane.”


Before I head to the airport I usually try to re-read the first lines of “Just Wait 'Til I Get Through With It,” in Duck Soup. Tim Dirks explains: the character, Firefly “specifies the rules and program planned for his preposterous administration. He threatens, as a repressive, dictatorial ruler, to abuse his power, to be rude, obnoxious, irresponsible, insulting, cynical, and power-mad, ruining the country…”


The lyrics read:


These are the laws of my administration

No one's allowed to smoke

Or tell a dirty joke

And whistling is forbidden...

If chewing gum is chewed

The chewer is pursued.

And in the hoosegow hidden...

If any form of pleasure is exhibited

Report to me and it will be prohibited.

I'll put my foot down, so shall it be.

This is the land of the free.


Hey, I’ve worked for the public for over four-decades and it ‘ain’t no picnic.’ Yet, one would think that in an era of social-media, blogs and online content opportunities, even mega-corporations would start to understand that consumer pushback is only going to increase.


Be sure to read The Funded’s Adeo Ressi Arrested After Virgin America Flight Incident” and “Delta Flight 1843 From JFK To Hell,” “Suit Over Faulty Computers Highlights Dell’s Decline” or “Citigroup: Too Big to Manage” for good examples.


The best takeaway line in the piece about Citigroup is: “Citi reminds me of the old Soviet Union, a massive bureaucracy run by people who thought they were smarter than the free markets.” It is an explanation that fits much of the bad customer service phenomena that persists today.


Lora Kolodny wrote a must-read piece in TechCrunch last year, “Study: 82% Of U.S. Consumers Bail On Brands After Bad Customer Service,” in which “a new report from RightNow and Harris Interactive” is called to our attention. “Contrarily, they stand to make more money if they can deliver a superior experience, the report says.


“The Customer Experience Impact 2010 report reveals that 82% of consumers in the U.S. said they’ve stopped doing business with a company due to a poor customer service experience. Of these, 73% cited rude staff as the primary pain point, and 55% said a company’s failure to resolve their problems in a timely manner drove them away.”


One can only wonder just when bad service will fully reach saturation to the point of refusal and the pendulum will begin to swing toward better customer service. It can start any day now…


. . . . .I’m just saying…


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