Thursday, February 23, 2023

SERVICE - Ain't What It Used To Be


I have been working most of my adult life.  I had my first job at age eleven and worked year round at one or more jobs until I graduated college in January 1970.  I then went to work of Owens-Corning Fiberglas, a Fortune 150 company in the building materials industry.  In 1985 I started my own marketing research and services company (BJS III Marketing), and then, in 1987, I started a light manufacturing company called ADvent Supply.  ADvent started in my garage with three employees, and grew over sixteen years to three plant locations (Texas/Virginia/Nevada) with 127,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing and warehouse space and over three hundred employees.  I sold the company to my largest competitor in 2003 and retired.

The key to my success when working for others and the success of my own companies was almost entirely dependent on providing the service my customers deserved and craved.  Oh, sure, we had to have good quality products.  And, yes, we had to be competitive.  But the real reason we were able to survive, grow and maintain consistent profitability was GREAT SERVICE.

The classic definition of SERVICE is the action of helping or doing work for someone and providing assistance or advice to the customer during and after the sale of goods.  In the case of ADvent Supply, we designed and staffed a company whose goal was to provide superior service to all customers.  We trained our employees and kept them motivated to serve.  We responded quickly to every request to ensure our customers got the service they paid for in a timely manner; occasionally going over and above to make things right.  Were we perfect, no, but we tried our best.

During this same period of time, we searched for companies that had not only the products we required but also the service to secure those products quickly and efficiently.  We also monitored the follow-up service when things didn’t go exactly as planned to ensure we got what we wanted and were treated fairly.  We went out of our way to do business with those companies who provided superior service even if it meant a cost premium. 

Unfortunately, we are finding that fewer and fewer companies either have the desire or the ability to provide world-class service anymore…apparently at any cost.  Since the start of the Covid 19 pandemic or about mid-2020, service, across the board, has gone down the proverbial toilet.  Today, nearly three years later, I personally have almost daily reminders that even just good service in this country is very hard to find.  And marginal service is the new norm.

See if any of these situations have happened to you in the past three years

1.)   Missed delivery dates.  (Some by as much as two weeks)

2.)  Delayed deliveries.

3.)  Much higher prices with no increase in quality or service.

4.)  No phone number available to call anyone.

5.)  Inability to connect to a live person with which to speak.

6.)  Referred to a Chat with an automated attendant.

7.)   Referred to a Chat with an actual live person who still could not solve your issue.

8.)  Transferred more than once, even if a live person was available to speak with directly.  (I was transferred to four people at AT&T over a one hour period and still did not get an accurate or helpful response)

9.)  Put on “hold” for more than 20 minutes.  (My record was 1 hour and 13 minutes while trying to get an answer on a $ 699.00 order with the third-party shipping company handling a Lowes order we had placed)

10.)                   Transferred to a person whom you could not understand (language barrier), or who was poorly trained, or who, in the end, could not help you or all of the above.

And finally, have you ever been connected with a person who is rude, questions your intelligence, or simply hangs up on you!  (I had one person who implied that my parents were never married before I was disconnected, but I’ll just put that in the “rude” category)

One might think that these things only happen with smaller companies or companies that are struggling for whatever reasons, but that is just NOT the case.  Mega-retail giants like Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, Target and online powerhouses like Wayfair, Etsy, AT&T and Amazon are suffering with declining service with no improvement in sight.

Back in the day, if I got a complaint from one of our customers, I dug in and got to the bottom of it and worked hard for a solution.  We always tried to make it right for the customer, regardless of cost.  If you have experienced any of the above, don’t just let it go.  Contact the company and file a formal complaint.  Leave a review of your experience on an appropriate website.  Speak to family and friends (strangers on the train) about your experience.  Answer the annoying survey questions at the end of your call and hope the company listens and reacts. If all else fails, place a call or write a letter to the CEO of the company.  Yeah, that’s the one making the multi-million dollar bonus because they have been pleasing their stockholders instead of their customers.  See how long that lasts when they lose half their customers because of horrible SERVICE.

I would appreciate your perspective.