“The customer is always right.” This motto has been drilled into our psyche for generations. It’s plastered all over sales literature and taught in every class in the world. The great thinkers of the ages have all taught us to not question the sage wisdom learned through years of experience, until now. To challenge the paradigm of the client always being right, look back at the way it used to be: Old service stations had staff run out to check your oil, clean your windows, and, amazingly, pump the gas. One factor distinguishing then versus now: The customer appreciated and respected the service that was given. Because of the appreciation, the worker actually enjoyed performing for the client, and everyone received the benefit.

Unfortunately, the way of the past is, in fact, in the past. We’ve all seen the differences in the attitudes of the service industry. It’s not just the “me” generation that has caught up to all of us. The self-respect generated by a job well done is the exception now, whereas it used to be the rule. Why? What changed?

A Lacking Relationship

A number of factors have led to the reduction in customer service. The economic downturn a few years ago is certainly a main contributor. Previously, there was always a collaborative partnership between the client and service provider that ensured quality customer service.

In our industry, when we (the service providers) were called on to provide emergency service, we dropped everything to assist. The customers’ needs were paramount, and we were rewarded with lasting service contracts, reasonable profits, and quality relationships. That changed with the economic depression. Everyone suffered with massive layoffs, budget cuts, and overall doom and gloom. The clients had to make tough decisions and, therefore, often cut services to lower expenditures.

Unfortunately, part of the bust also included the housing market. New homes stopped being built, developers went bankrupt, and numerous trades suddenly disappeared. Those that survived with residential service expertise were remade in the commercial realm as “service experts” in the expansive commercial field. Residential companies providing commercial services encountered lower overheads, staffed less-skilled employees, and offered lower costs to clients. Overnight, the customers’ budget crisis had an answer. It didn’t matter the quality was less, since the costs were lower and expenses were cut.

The short-term answer was found: Existing commercial service providers had to match or beat the lower-cost providers to attempt to keep their customers. That can only work short term; however, since the cost of running a commercial enterprise is much greater than the well-meaning, but less qualified, residential company.

The Demise of Customer Service

Here’s how the customer is contributing to the demise of true customer service: The economy is improving, companies are hiring, manufacturing is up, yet the client is still using the same template he or she was when the bust hit. He’s taking three bids for every $500 project, and the company with the lowest bid — even $1 lower — is awarded the job. Where’s the partnership? Where’s the customer service/provider relationship?

This is repeated over and over again, with almost all past and new clients. This is now the “new norm” in the service industry. The service provider is treated as a commodity. The provider can be thrown away and another is brought in to give the same level of service. However, that level of service no longer exists; the provider can’t afford to provide the little “extras” in labor and material that previously were common.

With this mentality permeating every level of decision making, there is no room for true customer service. The client still wants the provider to drop everything when there is a service emergency; however, she complains about the invoice because she didn’t have the time to bid out the repair. The loyalty factor is null and void in this type of relationship. This attitude is also relayed down to the field employee and affects morale. Eventually, the result is no one really cares if a client is serviced properly or not, causing customer service to suffer. Everyone loses in this arrangement.

Until the mentality of the “low-bid” award is changed, and the partnership between client and service provider is restored, the customer will have to get accustomed to “pumping his own gas and washing his own windows.”

Publication date: 7/21/2014

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