Customer Service?

While I’ve often bristled, especially as an author, at the slogan “the customer is always right,” perhaps because I don’t think that fiction should be totally consumer driven on all levels and that authors should make efforts to elevate their readers’ understanding, there’s definitely more than a grain of truth to the adage. It also invites a tremendous amount of hypocrisy in the business community.

In the previous blog, I noted how certain products often aren’t available because the re-sellers are actually selling space and not the product per se. In this instance, customer service clearly takes a back seat to other considerations, i.e., maximizing profit rather than customer satisfaction. While I’m the first to understand that those businesses that don’t make a profit won’t remain in operation long, I have trouble when they also talk about their commitment to the customer. The other day, my wife found a product that she really liked, from a company that was sending her a similar type of product. She liked the new product much better, but when she called to change her monthly order, the company representative told her that they couldn’t change her order, that the “new” product couldn’t be shipped under the old program. My wife’s reaction? She canceled the old order and now buys the new product from a local merchant. Her total spending for products from that company is less, and she probably would have continued to buy more if the company had been more accommodating.

There’s another firm that has a slogan along the lines of “we haven’t forgotten who keeps us in business.” I don’t patronize them very much any more — except when I absolutely have to — because they tack fees onto everything and at every turn. And I’m getting more and more irritated at the airlines for all their fees for everything. I often travel long distances, and given what I do and how I do it, it’s simply not possible to cram all the handouts, press packages, and the clothes into a carry-on. So I have to collect more paper [for the IRS, to document more expenses] that I’ve lost more than once, which costs some money over the course of the year. Then, there’s the boarding pass/baggage routing problem. Because of where I live, there are often considerable layovers, and the computers won’t issue a bag tag if too many hours elapse between first take-off and last take-off. That means I have to program extra time into things so that some overworked airline clerk can laboriously override the computer and make sure my baggage tags are printed to the right destination.

I could go on and on… with example after example, but the point behind all of this is that all too often the slogan or the idea of customer service comes far down the line of business priorities — and yet all too many companies tout it, some of which provide very little of either customer consideration or service. I understand that there are other business considerations, but if there are, I’d really appreciate it if companies in such a position weren’t so fawningly hypocritical… and I suspect I’m probably not the only one who feels that way.

But then, if the ad or the internet says that they really serve customers, it has to be true, doesn’t it?