March 22 , 2022 /


When did the shift occur when companies, including grocery stores and department stores, started wanting customers to do what they did previously?  Examples are self-checkout and online apps for financial services, communication, health care, government agencies, and others.  It seems like an ill-informed move toward cost-cutting by having fewer or lower paid employees.  Now we get this message, “We are receiving a higher than normal call volume and your wait time may be longer than we would like. We apologize for the inconvenience.”  After that you might hear anything from a projected wait time that could be minutes to hours to we will call you back, to press # to leave a message. This morning, it was a 1 hour 45 min wait time for Delta Airlines and they are supposedly calling back.   Or the worst, “We are sorry we cannot take your call. Please call back later.’

Customer service has deteriorated to such a low level that it can hardly be called service.  The amount of time the customer is now expected to spend to solve problems has increased exponentially. I have felt on numerous occasions that I should add up the hours of my time and send the company a quarterly invoice at my hourly rate.  Many companies now hire people in other countries with low labor rates and give them a manual or a script to answer questions. The attempt to connect personally by giving the CS rep a familiar but fake first name doesn’t suffice to make a genuine connection that goes easily and well.

The top indicators of poor customer service include long wait times, an automated system that makes it hard to reach a human agent, and having to repeat information multiple times. People have expectations for how a company will serve them.  Here are some findings from a survey and study of customer service or the lack thereof:

  • Airlines drew the highest percentage of complainants with rage, at 77%.
  • $494 billion is at risk to businesses as a result of their most serious customer problems.
  • Customers make an average of about three contacts to resolve a problem, with 10% of respondents making six or more attempts at satisfaction.

The result for companies is bad word of mouth, with dissatisfied customers telling an average of seven people about their experience.

Of customers who complained on social media, 49% never hear from the company. I have complained three times on Twitter and heard back immediately,

It used to be that when people complained, they talked to 5 to 12 times the number of people as those giving a compliment.

Now it’s hundreds. 865 is the average number of friends, followers or contacts across social media, so with minimal effort, 865 people see something negative.

Seth Godin recently used FEDEX as an example of what’s happened in this arena. There are plenty of others.  This is from his recent blog:

“For its first decade, Federal Express embraced customer service as a marketing tool. They were competing with the postal service, but more than that, they were trying hard to create a habit that turned 25 cent deliveries into $20 deliveries, particularly among businesses.

They answered the phone on the first ring. They hired people who cared about the customer experience and gave them tools to keep their promises.  They sacrificed short-term profits in order to build a brand promise that people could trust.

Some organizations end up ingraining this ethos deeply into what they do, and stick with it for the long haul. They have a hospitality mindset. Service isn’t simply the tool to make profits–it’s a key part of why you’re here in the first place.

In the last decade, Fedex (simply to pick a familiar example, they’re by no means unique) decided to take a different path.

They don’t answer the phone easily. When they do, they box their low-paid workers in with scripts and policies that leave little room for human engagement. They remove less profitable dropboxes,  and shorten the hours they do pickups. When a package goes awry, they do little to repair the broken trust it creates. I’m sure a McKinsey consultant ran the numbers on all of these changes.

All of these steps add up to slightly more profit in the short run. And, perhaps, over time, people who really care …switch to another provider. But the real cost here is to their people, their mission and the culture they seek to build.”

When I was in the CEO role, I insisted that we have a live, knowledgeable person answer the phone and make sure the caller would get a timely response. Little things make a big difference.  On this, and numerous other things, Tom Peters and I are on the same page.



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