Think Customer Service is an oxymoron? Turns out you’re right.

I’ve written on this topic before. From the supposed communications expert who told me that she didn’t want to hear my opinion, to the software company that thought a good way of doing support might be to go for sympathy by telling me that software development is hard, to the company that just couldn’t communicate, the theme recurs anecdotally for me, you, and just about everyone.

And now Contact Center Industry Analyst ContactBabel has made it official: in the USA, in 2009, looking at 6.6 billion call center interactions, consumers felt overwhelmingly that the centers failed to actually provide support.

Well, OK, so customer service is bad. We knew that. The question is . . . why?

It’s difficult to do good customer service even when a company WANTS to. Finding the right people to staff a call center, training them to communicate the way you want them to, and then keeping them trained as both your product/service offering and general business surroundings change over time is a juggling act that even the dedicated and well-intentioned find challenging.  Once the support center becomes viewed as an expense item . . . or even worse, an expendable expense item, it’s over. And sadly, that seems to happen . . . every time.

Customer Service starts out as a way to win and keep business. Usually, as a company becomes successful, and certainly once it starts “answering to its shareholders” customer service goes into the toilet.

Walk into a Verizon Wireless store. Do you want to buy a phone? a Verizon Wireless employee will help you. Do you need service or repair? The less-cheery people in the back wearing what look like Verizon Wireless uniforms have an extra patch on their sleeves telling you what company they actually work for. That’s right: Verizon Wireless won’t trust their sales to anyone but their own employees, but service? Outsourced, right in their own stores, to people intentionally masqueraded as employees.

I’m a business guy. I understand the need to turn a profit and I know how to massage the resources. When business change becomes about that at the expense of doing the things that made your company successful, you’re missing the point. And it doesn’t need to be that way: like preventive health care contributing to overall wellness, real customer service adds to a business’ bottom line.

Next time you’re thinking about your customer service, remember: it’s the most important function in your company. 6.6 billion phone calls can’t be wrong.

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