It seems organizations are becoming more anonymous and technologically robotic every day. They're substituting machines for people at an ever-accelerating rate. And, when a human being is present, it's so often a low-paid, untrained, discourteous person, at least judging from the quality of service (or lack of it).
Just try to get a knowledgeable person on the phone at a large bank to help you with a problem. Before a live voice appears, there is usually a lengthy list of, "press this for that, or that for this" set of options. Even when a living voice finally answers, I often have to phone the bank president's office to get an answer that makes sense. Or, how about the computer software "tech-help" lines. After wading through all the number pressing options, the wait for a live person is usually so long, I've figured out the answer myself.
Recently, I had a question about an item on my cell phone bill, so I called the company's "customer service" number. Well, first I was told by a recorded voice that if I wanted information about new pricing, I should press "25." Of course, that wasn't for me. Then, the voice said, "for common questions, press 5." Did I have a common question? I didn't know. Then it said, "for questions about billing, press "1." I figured pressing "1" would only bring on more button pressing, so I decided to listen on -- for maybe a live voice.
Next, it was "press 2," then "press 4." Then -- believe it or not -- the voice said, "press 0 for Customer Care." Eureka! So, I pressed "0", and was told by another very robotic sounding voice that someone would be with me in "42 minutes!" Yup, in just 42 minutes I might speak to a human being. I wonder if a human being has read the letter I sent. Probably it's been scanned into a computer that will automatically send me a form letter, signed by a color printer, that won't really answer my question.
Oh, then there are the really knowledgeable, courteous airline reservations folks. The other day I wanted to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco, so I called one of the shuttle airlines to check out their prices and schedules. And you know, to my great surprise, there were no buttons to push and I waited only 15 seconds for a live person to answer the phone. A good start, I thought.
But when the reservations fellow gave me a price of $278, I told him I'd paid only $116 the week before on another airline -- for the same time, same day of the week. Then he said to me (and this is an exact quote), "I'm really not interested in your commentaries on our competition." And he hung up on me! Well, guess which airline I used, and will continue to use.
Why is it that so many employers can't seem to understand that their customer contact people are perhaps the most important in the organization. After all, if there are no sales or income, there will be no strategic planning, production/operations, accounting, shipping, or anything else. And -- why is it that organizations so often put their lowest paid, least trained employees in customer service, or on the phone to take orders or solve problems?
Perhaps it's time for employers to wake up and realize that the "human connection" for customers is an important one, and that positive first impressions count. There's something about a good person-to-person contact that has always filled cash drawers and always will. Well paid, trained, courteous, knowledgeable customer service people are one of the best investments an organization can make.
Management can help here. Encourage staff to take their eyes off the latest technology long enough to make sure their contacts with customers are positive ones. It just may mean more smiling customer faces and much better income statements and balance sheets!