Kiss my access: the death of customer service
Serving as an executive for a major bail bond insurance underwriter, I spend a lot of time travelling around the country. This past week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Oklahoma Bondsman Association meeting in Oklahoma City. The trip was largely uneventful, except for an experience at the airport which got me to thinking about what the heck ever happened to customer service.
When any of us go to an airport, we have expectations. The first expectation is that we will have to wait in the third slowest line known to man, the security line. For the record, there are only two lines slower than a TSA security line: the line at any rental car company (I’m not picking on anybody; they’re all beyond terrible) and the line for concessions at a movie theater. I’m not sure why this is or why I’m always in line behind the guy who can’t make up his mind between Raisinettes and Junior Mints. But these slowpokes take years off my life that I’ll never get back.
As for the airport, if you can make it past the security checkpoint without being pulled aside for that oversized four-ounce bottle of shampoo your wife packed for you, you finally make it to the gate. That brings us to the next expectation — that there will be a friendly representative from your airline waiting to answer your questions and assuring you that your flight will be taking off on time. Straightforward, right?
My most recent trip met most of these expectations. Until it didn’t. The trouble began when it was time to board my flight. Apparently there was no crew. Now, I am no rocket scientist, but I am fairly sure that having a crew is pretty important to commercial air travel. So I’m thinking that waiting a little bit was probably worth it. So we waited… and waited… and waited. Finally, just as I was about to add airlines to my list of slowest lines, the crew arrived.
Once the cheering from the passengers subsided, I overheard the captain say to the gate attendant that there would be a delay of an additional 15 or 20 minutes before departure while they got something to eat. This got my blood boiling. I totally understood that the crew probably just got in from another flight and needed to get some fuel in their bodies before taking off again. But what kind of business is run so poorly that they can’t manage to schedule and properly staff their operations without making their customers sit around and wait for them? Why bother to have a schedule at all?
In my world, customers are the single most important thing. In fact, for most people who work in a service industry of any kind, customers are your lifeblood. For some reason, this airline – and I know they’re not the only one – feels that their definition of customer service includes an hour delay and forcing their passengers to wait even longer while the beleaguered crew scarfs down a meal.
What in the world has happened to the concept of customer service… not just in the airline industry, but everywhere? When I call any of the businesses with which I work, whether it’s an airline, the bank, my pharmacy, insurance company or my doctor, I am first greeted with a recording telling me how important my call is to them.
A list of options is then recited to me along with a choice of buttons I have to press. If I want to speak to a person, I must go through an endless series of beeps and clicks to finally get a living, breathing “customer service” representative.
That’s if I’m not automatically disconnected first.
And what do these good folks ask me? Every question that I just answered through their automated phone system! This is supposed to be customer service? If my call was actually important to them, they would have a human being answer the phone. Instead, they just give an endless list of options that never seem to be what I need.
Then it finally hit me. This isn’t about service at all. It’s all about access. I can reach all these companies 24/7, 365 days a year through their automated phone services, but can I really get service or actual help?
Somewhere along the way, with the added convenience of internet sites, phone apps and automated attendants, the customer service people seem to have lost sight of the real reason people call. They want to talk to a person and get help. Or as some people might call it — customer service. If companies today want to truly become more customer-centric, friendlier and more personable, don’t just offer customers a 24-hour access phone number and a loyalty program. Offer them access to your company’s most valuable resource — your people. Bring the human connection back to customer service. Access is nice, but you know what? Service is better.