Customer (DIS)Service: What’s Lacking and How to Get It Back

CNBC recently aired a special entitled “Customer (DIS)Service: A Maddening Look at the State of Customer Service” where they shined a spotlight on the customer service provided by outsourced call centers, waiters, retailers, recorded menu options, and a host of other industries. Not surprisingly, most of what they found left much to be desired. Man-on-the-street interviews showed an overwhelming frustration with regards to customer service, or as CNBC puts it, “customer disservice.” For all the advancements in technology — computers, databases chock-full of information, sophisticated phone systems — it seems that customer service has actually declined over the years. But why? And why is customer service so important for businesses, anyway?

To answer the first question, we think interviewee Shaun Belding, author and CEO of The Belding Group, put it best: “All the technology was designed to connect us to each other. And that’s what we did. But we lost the beauty of connecting with each other.” Since our interactions these days are often over the phone, it’s easy to become disassociated – they’re just a name and a disembodied voice, right? However, missing that opportunity to connect is missing an opportunity to make a person’s day better, maybe even your own, and certainly make a good impression for your business. You never know who that voice may be attached to: the next evangelist for your company, someone who’s having a rough day that you could cheer up, your neighbor?

In thinking about personal connections, it reminded me of a call I took when I first started at Ruby as a virtual receptionist. We take calls from businesses across North America, and this particular business happened to be on the East Coast. In the course of taking a message for the client, I learned that the caller was from my hometown of Huntington Beach, California, and not only that, he lived at the same intersection as my childhood home! What are the odds? We had a lovely chat about the area and the lively Main Street, and we both ended the call smiling. It could’ve been a very rudimentary call; I could’ve simply taken a message, and we could’ve gone our separate ways. But I wouldn’t have remembered it nearly three years later, and my caller wouldn’t have been nearly as happy.

When people make a personal connection or have an extraordinary experience with a business, they not only become loyal to that company, they’re going to want to talk about it. They’ll tell their friends, colleagues, and family about how someone went above and beyond for them or invested in them or just plain listened to them. Word of mouth – whether it’s positive or negative – can spread like wildfire.

Making meaningful connections with callers and clients isn’t something extra, a nicety; it’s something to cultivate, and it’s imperative to the success of our business. In fact, we put it at the very top of our Ruby Hierarchy of Service Pyramid. Making meaningful connections is at the crux of truly outstanding service, and as ING Direct CEO Peter Aceto said at the end of the CNBC special, “Customer service is the new marketing. It’s the only differentiator businesses have left.”

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