October 9, 2019
Column | big picture

Gotta serve somebody

Has customer service nosedived in a time of low unemployment?

By David Maloney

I usually consider myself a fairly patient person. However, a few customer-service issues of late have seriously tried that patience. It makes me wonder if the current labor shortage is affecting companies' ability to serve their customers properly.

The unemployment rate stood at 3.7% all summer. It's tougher than it's been in decades to find good help. So it's understandable that service might take a back seat when companies are forced to hire from a less-than-desirable labor pool. But that doesn't mean we should settle for what often feels more like customer disservice.

Without getting into the murky details, my recent experiences included poor service in a restaurant, the inability to find a trained person to assist with a large-appliance purchase, and heavily advertised items that no one could locate. We've probably all found ourselves trapped in the customer-service version of Dante's circles of hell when trying to resolve a simple issue by phone that would have taken a human 30 seconds to fix. Instead, we're taken on a full tour of the automated call system's menu options only to return to the menu where we started. Pressing "0" never seems to summon a human anymore.

Although companies may not realize it, the effects of poor service add up over time. Most unhappy customers will not complain directly to the businesses that disappoint them; they simply won't return. And then they share their experiences on social media.

Obviously, good customer service requires finding people who are willing and able to be trained to work with customers—which isn't easy even in times of plentiful labor. On top of that, workers today, especially those on the lower rungs of the ladder, change jobs frequently. That means that all of that training often goes for naught.

For good customer service, it is not enough to just keep workers happy. People today need to be **ital{engaged} in their work. It's much more than employee satisfaction. It's a belief in the organization's mission and a desire to do their part to assure the company's success.

Training firm Dale Carnegie said in a 2017 report that the three factors that most affect an employee's engagement are the worker's relationship with his or her direct manager, a belief in the senior leadership, and pride in working for the company.

With so many examples of poor service out there, companies can easily differentiate themselves from their competitors simply by focusing on good service. The low-hanging fruit is to start by engaging the employees who engage the customers.

About the Author

David Maloney
Editorial Director
David Maloney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and is currently the editorial director for DC Velocity and Supply Chain Quarterly magazines. In this role, he is responsible for the editorial content of both brands of Agile Business Media. Dave joined DC Velocity in April of 2004. Prior to that, he was a senior editor for Modern Materials Handling magazine. Dave also has extensive experience as a broadcast journalist. Before writing for supply chain publications, he was a journalist, television producer and director in Pittsburgh. Dave combines a background of reporting on logistics with his video production experience to bring new opportunities to DC Velocity readers, including web videos highlighting top distribution and logistics facilities, webcasts and other cross-media projects. He continues to live and work in the Pittsburgh area.

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