Credit and Collection News : A Division of Elsos



We need Customer Service More than ever!

posted on 2008-12-14

In these hard economic times, adding more customer service is more important than ever. Dont believe that; lets look at a couple of industries to make the point.

Lets start with the airline industry. When was the last time you said, wow that was a great flying experience? Imagine getting to the airport, walking right up to the counter, stroll quickly through security and getting right on to your on time flight. The plane leaves on time and you arrive exactly when you are supposed to. Your luggage is even waiting for you on the carousal as you walk up to the baggage claim area. Sound like a dream, actually this happened last Thanksgiving flying on Southwest from Tucson to San Diego. That is the exception to the rule (isnt Southwest just that?) As someone who travels a lot, I could list stories upon stories of that trip from hell.Lets take my friends from United.I have gone from a 100k flyer there to at best, a Premier flyer, if I am lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it). Dont expect to talk with an agent; if you need to make a reservation, you need to use the internet. If their system is having difficulties, good luck. Try and speak with someone (who has been outsourced to India) and it will cost you extra, not to mention trying to understand their accent. Come on, how many Georges are there in India? I am all for outsourcing, if it makes sense. But take your time, teach your outsourcers the ins and outs of your business to help them provide excellent customer service. Take the effort so that your outsourcer is completely comfortable with your service. How many times have you spoken with Dell for customer service only to be more frustrated than before you called. And the reason you called was because you computer was not working right. And please, let them use their real name.

Now we must deal with the mass cutting of flights, flying somewhere else to get where you are going, and the dramatic increase of flights expenses (should we blame the oil companies)? Since the airlines have decided that bankruptcy is a business plan, imagine the loyalty factor of their employees. You work for a company for 20 years and invest your retirement in your company, only to watch the value of your retirement dwindle to zero. Meanwhile the airline executives are walking away with massive golden parachutes. Starting pay for an airline pilot hovers around what fast food managers make, a comforting thought at 25,000 feet in the air. So as an employee you now love your company and coming to work everyday. Your hours have been increased, you have given up concessions to keep your job and now you have to deal with me, the consumer who is pissed off that your service has been degraded down to nothing. So already, we have entered the world of disgruntled employees and what do you think our experience will be?

Now the prices we are paying to fly are up and the service levels are down. Lets throw in the extra charges. Luggage is now extra (delivered or not), food (if you call it that) is extra, beverages are extra, and dont even think about changing your flight withoutat least a $100 change fee, what is next? I love the new Southwest commercials, pay toilets, pay tray tables, and pay recliners, where does it end? How about extra for delivery of your luggage? I would be willing to pay to have my luggage actually make it to my destination. Leg room, on United you can actually pay for leg space, pay extra by the inch. How about pay by the minute? Make it on time, pay full fare, for each late minute you get to deduct off your full fare. Now there is an incentive to get you there on time! And a reward if we are late, at least we get compensated. Talk about a recipe for putting the airlines out of business! Loyalty programs are great, but if you can never get your flights with blackout dates etc it becomes a dis-loyalty program. Even Southwest has changed their program to limited seats available, shame on them!

But enough bashing of the airlines, lets look at another industry, the hospitality industry.

The hospitality industry has decided that their solution to these hard times is to fee their client back to profitability. Whoever invented the resort fee should be taken out and shot. You pay for your hotel room but it does not include the resort? You need to go directly to your room and do not pass go or collect $200. Do not think about using the gym because then you will get a gym fee. Drink the water in your room, $4.95 out the window, Internet another $12.95. Do not park your car at the hotel, even though there is ample space for all, fork out another $20 a night for your car to rest. Do not forget about the energy crisis additional fee. You could be green in your thoughts, that means use your sheets and towels again. No you do not get a discount for saving the hotel money for laundry costs and labor, but your do get to feel good about yourself. When a hotel starts giving us plush towels worth using twice then we will. You could order food at your hotel and pay $25 for a burger. Do not think about ordering a pizza to be delivered, Hotels are quick to ban pizza delivery companies from delivering to their rooms. Look at the lines of clients hanging out to pick up the pizza in the lobby or outside the front door. Here is a hint to the hospitality industry. If you price yourselves competitively there is no reason to go elsewhere. Mini fridges in hotel rooms are filling up with groceries so that you do not have a $300 lunch and bar bill for your 2 day stay. Breakfast buffets starting at $27.95 when Dennys down the street is charging $6.95. Oh you cannot compare the two, the food is so much better at your hotel. Stop laughing a scrambled egg is a scrambled egg. If it were my business, charge $30 more a night and include it all, Imagine checking in and the rate of $279 actually was $279 a night. We bring our laptops with internet access, our cell phones to make calls, my gym membership across the street and now we bring our own food to avoid the astronomical prices being charged. Do not even get me started on trying to host a conference at a hotel, the rates you pay there, border on illegal.

So now I have ranted and raved about just two industries that have cut their customer service. There is so much more to talk about, retailers, manufactures, health care even education have all cut service levels. Our own industry, financial services is just as guilty on cutting customer service. Added fees, less services, more automation on just a few ways we have cut. At least we have moved to the 7 day a week 24 hours a day access. Internet banking has opened up the industry to give smaller firms the chance to compete with the big guys. And minus the American Bankers Association effort to stop Wal Mart, banking is close to a commodity service.

In our industry you see so many small businesses starting up, executives moving from corporations to start their own. These executives are fed up with corporate America and now trying to establish their own niche. What is the value? Adding customer service. An executive knows if you can take care of your client you can retain them. Access your rep when you need them. Solutions to your needs when you need them. All real issues that customer service can resolve.And not someone who answers the phone n a foreign country that cannot resolve your issue. Go back to the days when Fed Ex actually positively got your package there overnight. Nordstrom reps were waiting for you to make your purchase. The flight attendant was actually happy to see you.

Take it back America, add Customer service and loyalty will return. I know we would be loyal to someone who is loyal to us. Treat your clients with respect and service and they will buy from you. Spend your dollars on customer service and your clients are happy, thus your employees are happy and you have appositive cycle going. Not his negative fiasco we are creating now by cutting customer service. The problem could be answered by this simple scenario. Answer this question, who is your current phone company? Do they give you great service or would you switch for a cheaper rate? Take note and pay attention before you become another commodity. Do not rely on the cell phone industries response to customer service. Lock them into a two year deal and move onto the next client. You know you are safe for two years no matter how bad your customer service is. If they jump to another service, then the account goes delinquent and goes to collections. Wait lets think about this.

Steve Ruderman is President of Credit and Collection News a daily newsletter that goes out to 50,000 daily readers. He is also a frustrated consumer who used to be loyal to those who provided great customer service. If you find any customer service please email it to him at or call him at 760-438-1741.