The Collected Thoughts and Musings of an Aspiring Political Philosopher

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why customer service is so horrible... and likely to get worse

Under the Theory of Competitive Advantage, it is advantageous for companies to encourage the idea that all "customer service" is slow, unresponsive, aggravating, and generally BAD. Why?

Because customer service after the sale is a net loss to the company's profits. The whole profit aspect of producing a widget is in how much you can cut costs to get the raw materials and intermediate goods to make your thingy as cheaply as possible, then selling it at a price that brings in the biggest profit possible.

Customer service drains money away from these profits. Ideally, a company would like to make a product, sell it, and never hear from you again unless you're either buying another product from them or recommending that someone else does. Paying for customer service staff (even the offshore kind making a buck a day) is a complete and total loss, and is generally seen as a "cost of doing business" which would rather be eliminated any way it can to boost those ever-important dividends.

Used to be, companies thought they could get a competitive advantage by offering GREAT customer service. Thus, you had repairmen show up at your home (at no additional cost), gas-station attendants who filled you up, wiped your windshield and checked your tires, and could actually talk to a human being on the phone when you called with a problem. Then some nameless, faceless person with a "bright idea" (as seen from the corporate boardroom) realized that if you made customer service a universally unpleasant experience for people, the very term "customer service" would develop a negative connotation and most people would avoid it... and thus you could cut costs in that very money-sucking area.

So in the last 30 years or so we've seen company after company giving "lousy" customer service. Coincidence? Maybe. But If You Think Like A Corporate Executive it makes perfect sense: if everyone has lousy customer service, customers won't bother using it and we won't have to spend any of our dividend checks paying for it. If it becomes the national (or global) paradigm that customer service is worthless, then corporations get to cut even further back on the quality of that service until they are left with the most limited legal limits of it (essentially, to offer a refund or replacement if the product is not functional upon delivery... everything else is pretty much a "too bad" scenario).

Sure, people will still demand their problems be fixed if something is badly wrong... but this new mindset being imposed on consumers is one of "oh heck, why bother, just go buy another one, it's easier than going through the hassle of customer service". And, of course, unless people buy a different brand (which is often owned by the same company anyway), they end up giving the corporations a double-purchase... a double-win for the company.

And with many retail stores now restricting purchase returns to 30 days... sometimes even 14 or as little as 7... this means that if you buy it and it messes up within a couple weeks, you're screwed. The retail store is no longer the convenient "No problem, we'll take it back if it breaks" solution for consumers. In fact, corporate manufacturers are making this harder on retailers, so it's not even the stores' fault... many stores are changing their returns policy precisely because manufacturers and distributors and tightening them up.

Think this isn't something that goes through the minds of corporate executives daily? Call customer service about your newest electronic gadget and get a wake-up call. Then ask grandma what it was like when the TV technician showed up at her house... for free, always polite and helpful... to fix her console. THEN you will understand how much has changed in the last few decades. And how much we need to develop a sense of "customer SERVICE" back into the corporate world... in other words, if they have crappy service, DON'T BUY THEIR STUFF.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Most important quote of the day and the implications for America

I read this today, and the profundity of it made me realize it needed to be said over and over:
"The standards and quality of live that have been achieved in the United States in general, and in other Western states, didn't come about because because of some mythical invisible hand or because of industry insights into human dignity or the needs of labor. The safety and wage standards that exist today came about because workers in communities across America struggled to change conditions that often pitted a specific industry -- which often had interlocking interests with other industries -- against American labor." "Like the peasants of medieval Europe, [labor] needed work and were forced into conditions which which overlords could dominate virtually all aspects of their lives. Rebellion and the introduction of enlightened leaders paved the way for improvements in [labor's] standard of living ... [j]ust as the progressive ideas of democracy and capitalism were fought by conservative aristocrats in Europe, issues related to social and economic justice in America have always been fought by forces who warn of impending doom if changes are made." -"The Myth of the Free Market: The Role of the State in a Capitalist Economy" by Mark A. Martinez, Kumarian Press, 2009.

Understand this: conservatives, no matter what they SAY in public, abhore the middle class and labor. It goes against everything they believe, which is that there are those who are destined to be priviledged and those who are not. While a few still hew to the belief that "rugged entrepreneurs" have a place at the table, that is an idea that only comes from the middle 16th Century... those who harken back to a more "civilized" day (i.e. when blood-lines meant everything and peasants knew their place) have it engraved in their souls that nobody is entitled to anything unless you belong to the modern-day nobility. Anyone else is an upstart and pretender, and should be treated as such.

Conservatives, in other words, consider YOU inferior, worthless except for the labor you provide, and essentially meaningless in the world at large. Not exactly what you hear them say at election time, eh? But down deep, that's exactly what they are thinking and how they will treat YOU if you are stupid enough to once again elect them into positions of political power. Did I say "stupid"? Sure, because that's exactly how they view YOU if you either vote for them (and don't belong to the top 1% of the wealthy in this country) or stay home and encourage others to stay home to avoid voting for Democrats who have "disappointed" YOU in the past to "send a message". Do you want to know the message you're sending?

"Yes, I want more plutocracy, more corporate control over my life, less freedom and liberty, a militarized police-state, someone to tell me what I can and can't do with my own body, and more income and social inequality, because those lousy Democrats never deliver when I elect THEM into office".

If you're happy with the status quo, then by all means vote any way you want. If you think letting everything we've worked for during the past 100+ years is worth fighting for, then vote Democratic in 2012 and henceforth. Because even if the Dems have been infiltrated by the same corporate interests that busted unions in the 1930s and struggle every day to dismantle the New Deal and Great Society, they're still a damned sight better than the other side that makes no bones whatsoever about destroying every social and political gain the middle class has made in the last century for one and only one purpose: to once again gain the titles and powers of nobility they so desperately miss.

And don't think for a SECOND that they're not drooling at the prospect.