Have Customer Service Paradigms Shifted?
By Jennifer Craig | April 15, 2011
My father used to say, “If if ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” I grew up thinking that change wasn’t necessary unless the bottom was falling out and there was not an edge in sight to grab. My father’s era believed in the paradigm that change was not a good thing. As I grew up, I realized that everything changes (it’s the one thing you can be sure of). So, if everything changes, then old paradigms like my father’s must have shifted giving birth to new paradigms like “bigger is better,” “being rich is being successful,” or “cutting production costs, puts more profit in your pocket.”
A good question to ask when talking about changing paradigms is, “Has society as a whole benefited?” In order to better answer the question, let’s look at businesses. Over the years, I’ve noticed that businesses, like most Americans in general, are cutting services, portions, and quality (to some degree). Often owners are absent, leaving the business to be operated by someone who has less vested interest and desire for making the business successful (even though their jobs may depend on it).
Everyone has heard about the, “good old days,” so I decided to see just how good they were (and how old) compared to what we are experiencing today. I have to admit I was floored. Okay, so we all know that even back in the 1950’s and 1960’s bread, gas, and cigarettes were about $.25 (a loaf, gallon, and pack, respectively). Women dressed up to go to the grocery store (no kidding). They wore heels, pearls, and dresses. At work, they wore suits or dresses, stockings, and heels. Everyone dressed up to take trips (ride the bus, fly, or go by train). Local businesses carried customer accounts (gave credit), grocery stores and pharmacies delivered, doctors made house calls, and service stations, bakeries, cleaners, and nurses/doctors wore uniforms (usually white, starched, and ironed stiff). Business owners and staff greeted people with a smile and the “customer was always right.”
Nowadays, we live in a relaxed environment. Granted, we are higher tech (cell phones instead of party lines, lap tops instead of manual typewriters, and wide screen, HD TV instead of 12” black and white), but can we say that our lives are better? As an observer, I’m always amazed at people shopping in pajama pants, flip flops, and oversized t-shirts (those are women). In businesses, I’ve been waited on by clerks who literally looked like they had just stepped out of bed (hair scrunched up, wrinkled clothes, and far too casual for my taste). We’ve all been met with indifference, rudeness, and a lack of care for the customer. Little if no training goes into how the customer is treated or to what extent the customer is right. How many times have we asked a clerk for a size, color, or item to be told, “Everything we have is out there; if it isn’t, we don’t have it?”
On the production end, look at all the products being made overseas. Some of those same items fall apart within a year’s time. There are very few master repair people fixing vacuums, phones, CD players, and sewing machines these days, and nobody fixes toasters, can openers, or hair dryers any more. We’ve become a “throw away” society and in doing so, quality is falling by the wayside.
In service-oriented businesses, I’m appalled to see teenagers running the businesses (sometimes into the ground). The owners are nowhere in sight while tables are left dirty, customers are leaving (probably never to return), and the workers are goofing off. Literally, they are “going out of business,” it’s just a matter of time. Then when the business closes, I understand why but wonder if it could have been prevented. The owner has to have pride in the business and somehow convey that to his/her staff. Young people (especially this new generation) grew up in a high-tech environment (games, television, an array of devices) and they need to be challenged and managed regularly.
On numerous occasions I’ve asked business owners why their businesses are not doing well, and I’ve been given a lot of excuses. I often wonder if as a generation, we aren’t searching for the wrong things. Instead of giving way to “bigger is better,” we should be thinking, “better is better.” People tell me they are not satisfied with their work, pay, house, husband, friends, and even family. When I ask them what would make their lives better, they usually shrug and say something silly like more money, more time, and more fun. The truth is that there will never be more time (as long as there is only 24 hours in a day).
In regards to money, how much is enough? Of course, we are not all Bill Gates (who, by the way, understands that a person only needs so much money and that is why he is now giving a lot of it away), but that does not mean that we are not getting enough money. Granted, there is a huge population that struggles daily just to get by and we all understand that. However, the rest of us may have enough but are not managing it well. Are we living within our means and enjoying what we do have? Are we investing into our future and paying off debt (which includes high interest – money in someone else’s pocket)?
Life should be fun and we can have fun doing what we’re doing. However, If people are not in the business or job they love, then they will never be happy – no matter how much money they make. As a society, we put too much store in acquiring “things.” If we have good health, our loved ones nearby, and work that is satisfying then we are successful.
Being in business can be very rewarding. It is an opportunity to give something back to the community (not just make a buck) and build a legacy for our children. In doing so, we should be considering the customer (our real bread and butter) and give them that extra time, attention, and courtesy. Then, we will continue to thrive and that is success!
The old paradigm of quality service, product, and good customer service has not shifted. It is as true today as it was in the 1950’s or 1960’s. What has changed are attitudes about doing business. Businesses still offering quality, on every level, will continue to please their customers who, in turn, will continue to buy from them. Those businesses stand a much better chance of long-term survival. That means good customer service and owners who are active in their businesses. Then, society, as a whole, will benefit from a paradigm that is tried, true, and here to stay.
About the Author
Jennifer has over 30 years combined experience in business consulting, human resources, training, organizational development, and entertainment. In the past, she had worked for a variety of organizations including NMSU, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Universal Studios before joining WESST in 1995. Her BA is in Journalism and Mass Communications, and her graduate work is in Training and Development. She was on the founding Board of the local ASPA (SHRM) group, was named SBA’s Small Business Advocate of the Year in 1997; and has illustrated two books. She enjoys writing and painting.