"Many thanks for your outstanding contribution at our Annual Meeting. You faced a demanding audience and you performed with distinction." —Walter G. Shnee III, President, Million Dollar Round Table


Service, Quality...Where Is It?

Consider a series of not uncommon incidents in the last month, all related to trying to get a product or a service handled.

  • I called the local office of the company that owns our postage meter to have the scale recalibrated. The meter also indicated that it was time for a service check. Calling to make an appointment, I was informed that scale repair did not occur at that location. Calling back later, I learned the opposite. Just bring it in.

  • My most recent phone bill arrived without the last page. The very helpful, pleasant service representative, promised to send another copy within a week. Although she really was pleasant, she failed to do so.

  • I had a picture framed a year ago. Recently I noticed it slipping from its mounting. This required getting the ladder, removing it from the wall and returning it for repair. Although they cheerfully reattached the picture, it should not have slipped in the first place.

  • On Monday my phone line had no dial tone.  AT&T said their test showed an internal wiring problem and I needed a vendor. The vendor tested the lines and, lo and behold, it was an AT&T problem after all. AT&T later repaired the lines. Time lost, 4 days.

When was the last time you were in a store other than Nordstrom when you could even find as sales person? And when you could, could they answer your question?
Products and overall dependability and durability have declined frighteningly. A Newsweek article discussed the prevalence of poor customer service. Three years ago, a professor at the University of Michigan Business School, Claes Fornell created the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The Index is based on regular interviews with 16,000 customers of 200 different companies in 33 industries. Results have shown declining satisfaction with service in each quarter since it began.

See, it is not just me.

Businesses spend a vast amount of money, time and energy finding customers. If they spent even half that amount of time satisfying existing customers, they would be riding high. It costs businesses six times more to gain new customers than to retain current ones, yet customer satisfaction is rapidly heading south and this is in spite of the incredible amount of time, training dollars and lip service paid to the importance of service, service, service.

Fornell thinks lousy service distorts our picture of the economy even more than our current economic woes warrant. Prices may look the same, but a dollar doesn't buy the same service it used to." Nor does the dollar amount automatically equate to product quality. Much less energy and attention are placed on durability or reliability, regardless of price. We have truly become a disposable society. Examples of this abound.

My car, a late model, has electric windows. The driver's side motor has needed to be repaired twice in the last three years I have owned the car. My parents purchased a 1964 Cadillac from their neighbor. Those electric windows have never been repaired and continue to work perfectly. Similarly, the toaster my parents received as a wedding gift, still works. My mom purchased a new one because she wanted one with a wider width to accommodate bagels. (There are priorities after all.) They gave the old one to me, I used it for ten years, and now good friend uses it. My mother is on her second new toaster.

Many factors impact the situation we find ourselves in. Deregulation, downsizing, reengineering, inefficient processes, and often a simple lack of trust. Security is cited as the cause of stores with many doors locking all but one. This forces all traffic into a narrow stream. Elaborate security requirements affect prompt service when the need for heightened security means that fewer people have the necessary information to solve even simple problems. When is the last time a cashier was able override a register problem? Often a cashier, receptionist or front-line person is not entrusted with the keys, password, etc. to complete a transaction. This results in delays, longer lines and requires the intervention of a, quite often, overworked manager.

This slow erosion impacts the quality of our daily lives. Good service is so rare as to be notable. This situation takes a toll on us all but particularly so for home-based companies. It is all you can do to keep all the balls in the air. It is made worse by having to constantly double-check, make three phone calls when one should do or rearrange your schedule when the repair person neither arrives when promised nor calls. You don't need this extra level of aggravation. But be prepared for it.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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