Friday, August 3, 2007

Have you heard the latest joke?

Customer Service. That is the joke. And it is on me because I actually believed such a thing still exists. Maybe a small Mom and Pop business offers and stands behind their customer service, but where I live, the term gets a laugh.

It's not a joyful sound, that laughter. It is cynical, frustrated, edging on hysteria and anger, choking sound.

According to Wikipedia customers enter a value proposition when we sign up for service. A customer value proposition is what the customer gets for what the customer pays. Therefore a company's value proposition is evaluated on two broad dimensions with multiple subsets.

(I) Relative Performance - what a customer gets relative to competitors

(II) Price - which consist of the payment he/she makes to acquire the product or service and the access cost

A customer value proposition is being promised by a company's marketing and sales efforts and then fulfilled by its delivery and customer service processes.

It isn't about good customer service -- it is about what they can get away with in their sphere of competition and doesn't infringe on profits.

I so miss that adage: "The customer is always right."

Now it seems that the customer has turned into the pigeon -- a rat with wings -- a patsy, a stooge, a victim. A company can say whatever it wants. Making service providers pony up and do what's right -- that takes a lawyer and that wonderfully terrible word: Lawsuit.

I think consumers are all in the same jar. You know the one. It is a lab experiment where someone puts a frog in a beaker that has water in it. Water at a comfortable temperature. The frog sits in its pleasant environment enjoying the view, thinking "how lovely, they're taking such good care of me." And the next thing you know the little lab technician has inched up the heat until the frog is cooking in its own juices and the techie is about to enjoy some frog legs.

As long as we all sit here placidly, letting companies treat us like 'dinner' -- maybe we deserve what we get. Yet what can we do?

I looked online for examples of good customer service or how to get them. At Freakonomics, I found just what I was looking for -- unless you read the comments the June 2007 blog generated.

Then I stumbled across The Ten Commandments of Customer Service including "Know the Power of Yes!"

It was heartening to know that at least someone can define good customer service, can even show that it is profitable to practice such service. Then I realized that I live in a world where demand out distances supply. If I threaten to take my business elsewhere, they know their competitor offers the same dismal service or perhaps a bit worse. So if I leave, what have I gained?

And I would be remiss if I did not add that businesses operate under price constraints. The one area where consumers have the edge is in price control -- to a certain extent. We shop for the least expensive. So perhaps our spend thrift ways have cut our customer service options. The first expense to be shoved overboard -- customer service. I think this kind of thinking undermines profits, but everyone is doing it. Replace much needed human jobs with robot voiced answering systems, give your customer service staff a script and no authority to correct a problem. And make the customer wait, and wait, and WAIT, reminding us all the while that 'we are one of many.'

Its tough being a customer. I may 'always be right', but who cares -- take it or leave it is the byword these days.

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