I’m a Customer, Dammit!

In 2009 on a day when I was feeling rather lost and bewildered in digital Hell, I posted a blog on Huffington Post under this same title. Fourteen years later as our lives seem to be increasingly lived online or through an app, you too probably have some customer service grievances. I feel that customer service has become self-serve for too many businesses.

Several weeks ago, my very old refrigerator decided to adopt a much warmer stance and it simply stopped cooling or freezing. So, on that day I drove to a big box store and purchased a great looking new fridge that was dressed fashionably in stainless steel. The company gave me a delivery date and the appliance arrived at my front gate in its box on a truck and I enthusiastically walked out to meet it. When the delivery guys took it out of the box, we found that the seal around the freezer door was damaged, and the unit was taken back to their warehouse. The store promised to deliver another of the same model two days later. I began dipping into the bags of ice cubes I’d bought to keep some perishables cool. Having a warm martini certainly would not calm me down.

They brought an even newer fridge to my home right on their scheduled day, and I repeated the welcome ceremony. I was smiling as the delivery guys removed the box until the damage of dents and creases in the metal became obvious! They took fridge #2 back to their warehouse and I quickly went to the store to confront the manager. Peacefully reminding him that “I’m your very unhappy customer” took discipline…. lots of it. What he would not do is send me a new, fully working refrigerator before sundown on that day.

The older I get, the more I enjoy a helpful interchange with people who work diligently for businesses of any size. But, with each passing day, businesses who covet my dollars seem to want me, the supposed customer to do more of their work and to give them money for that privilege! If I’m paying, being treated like a customer would be a fine idea.

I feel that this new era actually began many years ago with self-service gasoline stations. Not only do I remember .55 cents per gallon gasoline, but I even recall the days when there were service station attendants who would check the oil and scrutinize the tires while filling your tank. Sadly, those memories are now shrouded in the mists of history. At first it was a charming novelty and a time saver to pump your own gas. They even discounted the price for you doing that! Now we are the gas hose handlers, there are no discounts and the only people you see are behind a bullet barrier.

In the 1980s, I was an early adopter of an ATM card from my bank. It was both cool and convenient to be able to replenish my cash supply at times when the bankers were asleep. But as time went on, it became obvious that the bankers really wanted us to use the ATM all the time so they could get by with fewer tellers. In a smart counter move years ago, at least one bank began offering concierge service to get a competitive advantage.

Supermarkets jumped into that working customer game with many featuring self-check-out lanes. Did you really want to be behind the person with 30 items in their cart the first time they use that service? I’d rather have to take close-up photos of a rattlesnake!

Today, there are signs in the marketplace that common sense is returning in 2024. Booths, a market chain in northern England, is closing most of their self-check-out lanes. A spokesperson for the company said that a fully staffed approach “delivers a better customer experience.” Several American markets are beginning to feel the same way.

One of the things we most easily connect with and sometimes yearn for is the sound of a human voice, especially one that can respond to your questions. It is OK for me to tell my smart phone to “call office” and have it do just that, but when I get the office, I prefer to speak with a real live person. Customers should be warmly greeted and treated with respect. Too many business owners and employees have lost sight of who is really paying their salaries.

Everywhere we look, businesses are beating the bushes in search of customers, but the same enterprises are pinching and squeezing on customer service. Yes, it is challenging to find good employees, and even more so to train them well. Sadly, service from a live and knowledgeable human being is becoming the new luxury, soon to be afforded only by those who demand it and are willing to pay more. You can now book a plane trip, endure the security screening and be on your way to the destination without anyone paying attention to your needs until they offer to sell you a sandwich on board! And airlines seem to wonder why they are sliding into post office territory on the scale of experiences we dislike.

No, I’m not against progress but I am also a true contrarian. In my TV production business, the phone was answered by live people between 9am and 6pm. We didn’t ask you to choose languages or have a trap door behind the pound key leading directly to voice mail hell.

If I’m dealing with your business as a customer, then I really want to be treated as a customer, not like one of your associates who works there and gets paid for it. Give me a human experience and in return I’ll give you loyalty and more business, in other words, a good owner experience.

Anybody can install an automated phone system and other electronic “service” devices. If you want a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace, bring a human face and voice to what you do. It will be appreciated, and we know that can lead to sales and business growth. Give me a reason to be a good customer by treating me like a valued customer. That is the true definition of a brand.

Small Business Expert; Nelson Davis

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