Is customer service dead? Before answering this question, let’s look at the question. First, it has two parts – customer and service.
What is a customer? Most definitions tell us that a customer is someone that buys goods and services from a business. Goods and services are produced from outcome of human effort to meet the wants and needs of other people. In other words, goods and services are products that people provide to other people. So, customers buy products (goods and services) from other people.
What is a service? Services are distinct from goods. Goods are tangible products that are produced and provided to other people. We can touch goods. Services are intangible products that involve the action of helping or doing work for someone. We all benefit from services but we cannot actually touch them. Nearly 70% of Canadians are employed in the service industry so services must be important.
The word customer is often used interchangeably with client. Do these two nouns really mean the same thing or is there a difference between the two? Some argue that a customer buys goods or services from a business while a client engages the services of a professional. According to these distinctions, services are provided to both customers and clients. As a professional with more than 40 years of education, training and experience I agree that there is a difference between a customer and a client but that these just mentioned general distinctions do not go far enough.
Here is what I have learned over a lifetime of education, training, and experience:
1. A customer buys goods and services. The person who provides the goods and services is trying to sell something to the customer. The goods and services provider has an economic focus; and
2. A client engages the services of a professional but the person who provides the services represents the client and/or the interests of the client. The service provider has (or should have) a people focus they act (or should act) in the best interests of that person when providing them with services such as information and advice.
All goods and services providers must make money to stay in business. What differs, however, between those that deal with customers and those that deal with clients is (or at least should be) the priority placed on the economic element of the respective businesses.
So, a service provider – customer relationship is economically focused and a service provider – client relationship is people focused. Customer satisfaction is important because a returning customer means more sales to the goods and services provider. Client satisfaction does have an economic payoff as well but the main motivation on the part of the service provider should be doing what is best for the client to meet their needs and wants. The economic element should be secondary.
Now let’s turn back to the original question. Is customer service dead? One might think so based on some of the following experiences:
1. A person purchases a new cell phone from a kiosk in a department store and is told of the one-year warranty on the phone by the sales person. The customer buys the phone and a couple of weeks later brings the phone back having experienced nothing but problems with it. The customer is then told of the fine print that the kiosk is only responsible for the dealing with the phone for the first 14 days of the contract after which the customer must deal directly with the manufacturer to have it fixed;
2. A person books a hotel online for a date that is several months away. According to the online booking the room is fully refundable but that they must enter their credit card info at the time of booking. Once the book now button is pressed they are told that their credit card was just charged for the full amount of the room. They immediately cancel the room but are informed that the refund will not get applied back to their account for a couple of weeks;
3. A person books a flight to a sunny destination. Once on board the flight they are told that there is a shortage of food and beverage and they are not provided anything to eat but a few snacks and the beverage service is limited. The seats are fitted so close together that there is no room to move. The flight attendants spend most of their time reading magazines at the front and back of the plane and when asked for service tell customers that the priority of their job is the safety of passengers and that they are not stewardesses;
4. A person calls an insurance company merely to confirm receipt of a fax sent to that company at the request of a “customer service” representative”. They send the fax and call to confirm receipt of the fax and are told by the representative that they have no way of checking because the fax machine is in another building and that they have no phone number for that building. However, if it is received they should see something on the file in a few days;
5. A person calls a phone/internet/TV service provider and after being asked by a computer to answer many questions is placed in line to speak to a real person. 40 minutes later they hang up in frustration; and;
6. A person enters an automotive parts store on a weekend and asks about a specific part. The sales person does not know how to look up the part and tells the customer that they do not have any more time to keep looking for it and to come back during the week when a more experienced person will be in the store to help them.
Each of the previous examples are real life examples of poor customer service. Undoubtedly the reader could come up with many more of their own. Remember when the slogan The Customer is Always Right was popular? How many times have you experienced just the opposite over your lifetime?
All customers should expect great customer service from people who are trying to sell them something like a home. All clients should expect great service and that their needs and best interests will be the top priority of the professional providing them with service. Perhaps all service providers should adhere to the following basic, but powerful slogan: Service First. People Always. Would not the world be a much better place if they did?
Choosing a realtor is a personal and important decision. Aim high for peace of mind. Contact Brett to represent you when you buy or sell your next Comox Valley home.