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Is “Customer Service” Even a Thing Anymore?

I think I have reached a milestone in my life. I’m starting to turn into the “GET OFF MY LAWN!” guy…and I’m completely ok with that! “Grumpy Old Men” and “Grumpier Old Men” are becoming less and less favorite comedies of mine and more like self-help films. I wish I was being exaggerative here, but I am 100% positive that my wife would back me up on this.
So, if this blog comes off as a grumpy old man, I apologize (sorta) but at least I warned you about it before you read on.
What ever happened to customer service? Is it even a viable business strategy anymore?
Let me give you a little backstory of what happened to me over the Memorial Day weekend. I took my son to go see Solo over the weekend and we had some stops to make afterwards. It was great father/son bonding time over our mutual love of all things Star Wars, rock music on the radio, and just catching up on each other’s lives. I, then, had to make a stop into retail store in order to pick up a part that I needed to complete some work. This is where the story just falls apart. It went from snide remarks by the employee to the employee getting into my face and using language that would make Tarantino blush in his insults to me…in front of my son. An employee. Of a very well-known retail brand. It not only put a bad taste in my mouth (to put it mildly) about the company…I will not return there. I told the regional manager when I reported the situation that there is 0% chance of getting back my business. I also have such a negative view of that brand that any event or any location where I see that logo or that they have sponsored is going to be tainted due to the association. It’s the way psychology works. But my son, in his infinite wisdom that I wish I possessed, summarized it best. “Dad, if they say they sell XXXXXX, what don’t they just do XXXXXX and not try and bully people?” (told you he was smarter than me… There’s a couple of MBA lessons in his question alone!) To give you context here, “bullies” are just above the Alabama Crimson Tide, Oklahoma City Thunder, the New York Red Bulls (NYCFC!!!), and bathing on John Aubrey’s list of things he cannot tolerate.
So, let’s recap…a company who is nationally known and very community minded and has a strong brand…completely undid that in my mind and in the mind of a 7 year old in an encounter that lasted 2 minutes. In my mind, it will never change. In his mind, it will probably change about the time he quits liking the Foo Fighters. There’s a chance…I guess…but I wouldn’t bet on it.
This left me with a problem. I still needed the part! My problem had not been resolved. So, a few days later, I drive a little further down the road to a competitor. It’s a national chain, good name…but not nearly as known. I walked in and was completely calm in my encounter. “I need a XXXX for a XXXXXXX. Do y’all have that?” The young lady was very personable. Asked me some questions which I did not know any of the answers. Laughed with me (not at me!) and translated her jargon into layperson’s terms, took me to the part, and we got it. Of course, there were several options (mutually exclusive options where if it didn’t work, I’d have to return and swap out) but she was very cool and friendly about the whole thing. The situation about the returns required me to have to sign up for their rewards program…which, she went ahead and did for me but without me having to give up a bunch of information in order to engage in an in-and-out purchase. It was very aware of my time and reading my cues. “I appreciate that, ma’am, but I really don’t want to have to unsubscribe from one more piece of email marketing”, I said. She replied laughing with me “Oh, I get it. No, I just used your name and phone number we already had (apparently I’d shopped there before…been awhile) and that will get you the card. Now, if you want to go online and start earning rewards and keeping tabs on them, you would have to go online but in order to get this done, you won’t need to do a thing should this part not be the correct one.” HALLELUJAH!!!!!!!! WHERE HAS THIS LADY BEEN ALL MY CONSUMER LIFE?!?!?!?! Throughout the entire exchange, managers and other co-workers who were walking around on the floor were nice, smiling, “good morning!”, etc. Of course, I had to come back and return the part (because I’m going to guess wrong in those situations 85% of the time) and she remembered me and we joked about having called it that I’d probably have to come back.
An hour later, I’d registered online to monitor my points…gave them more information…and even going to try and tolerate some email marketing (see the first paragraph of this post).
Was the contrast in service made more acute by the bad service I’d first received? Maybe. Did the second store have any clue the first encounter had even happened? Absolutely not.
Bankers, you see the point here?
You never know. You never know when your competition is going to mess up…and mess up royally. Waiting around on your competition is not a strategy I would solely employ. Go be aggressive, active, and competitive in your marketplace but there are times when not being the competition is the best thing you have going. I’ve had moments in my banking career where I got the business because of a bad experience the customer had had in another bank and they remembered that I’d done something good for them in the past and so, I got a shot at the business, really, without having to ask for it. Sometimes, I didn’t know about the bad experience until after the fact. The second store got me, my business, and my information as the direct result of an amazing customer service experience. Was I more acutely aware because of the bad experience? Absolutely. But I promise you that there is no way I would have taken time out of my day to go online and sign up for yet one more rewards program if the service was just average.
And the point here is not just “customer service”. We here often ask banking students “why should someone do business with your bank?” and, inevitably, we get the “we have the best service in town” response. What does that mean? How can you measure that? Customers expect (or should expect) good customer service. It should be as fundamentally engrained into your bank as deeply as debits and credits…cash ins and cash outs…candy suckers and burned coffee. Customers are looking for resources to help them meet their financial needs and want experts who know how to deploy those resources in order to help them. Customer service is stipulated in that engagement. In today’s digital world, part of that is getting those customers engaged with your bank and your bank’s resources (like a retail store’s reward program) so that banks can better service their customers profitably. In this case, not being the competition, having stellar customer service, knowing how to quickly meet my need got me, a grumpy old man, to engage with them in an ongoing and profitable way.
So, is customer service still a thing anymore? Of course it is! Should it be the sole reason people do business with your bank? No. Equipping and enabling your front line employees who have those innate customer service skills that are as fundamental as basic math skills with the ability to assist and educate the customer in an effective manner as well as guiding them into a longer term relationship that is advantageous for both parties should be the main goal. Again, customer service is a crucial piece of the puzzle…but there’s more to it than just smiley happy people on the front line. You can teach someone the “banking” and I know a good place to do that! It is much more difficult to teach someone the required level of customer service and how it all fits together.
Anyway, those are the lessons I picked up over the last few weeks. It’s time to watch Matlock and yell at those neighbor kids for being too loud and playing in my yard!!
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Byron Earnheart is the Programming Director for the Barret School of Banking in Memphis, TN and the host of the “Main Street Banking” podcast…the only podcast solely devoted to community banks. He has over 15 years experience in the financial services industry; 11 of which have been in banking in various roles from teller work to branch management. He spends his time playing guitar and singing in Delta Heart (the “house band of the Mississippi Delta”), writing music, cooking, reading, and enduring the University of Tennessee Volunteers athletic seasons. He is married to his wife Kelly of 11 years and has two children, John Aubrey (11) and Mary Laura (7). If you'd like to hear Byron's music, check him out on Spotify:
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