Whatever Happened to Good ol’ Customer Service?

Customer Service. Serving the customer. What has become of this seemingly lost art? Nowadays it seems like businesses and their employees have become so unfocused, jaded, and aloof that the customer is almost viewed as an annoyance. This would be a great place to work if it wasn’t for all those customers. Are we as consumers really willing to accept this level of complacency?

The days of “the customer is king” seem to be all but dead in the eyes and actions of most businesses today. It’s all about the bottom line, cost-cutting, and ensuring that employees don’t log a single minute of overtime. In fact, understaffing is becoming the norm.

Think about it…do the employees in the businesses you patronize really seem to care about your needs? Who’s responsible for the apathy of today’s workforce? Sure, the employees themselves have to take part of the blame, but it’s really a lack of corporate direction at the root of the problem. Without a clear vision of management’s customer service strategy, how is any employee supposed to know the values, standards and level of performance expected of them? The answer? They can’t.

I had an experience yesterday that was mind-boggling. I was at the deli counter of an upscale supermarket needing a single slice of prosciutto. (My 4-year old likes it in his mac n’ cheese. I know, I know…) The deli “specialist” asked me if I wanted Prosciutto di Parma or Prosciutto di San Daniele. “I’m not sure” I answered, “What’s the difference between the two?” She responded “Price and flavor” with a disgruntled huff. Apparently my question really bothered her.

The difference in price (nearly twice as much for the San Daniele) was in plain sight on the price labels. She offered no explanation of the differences in flavor nor did she offer me a sample of each to see which I preferred. (Prosciutto di Parma has a slightly nutty flavor from the Parmigiano Reggiano whey that is added to the pigs’ diet while Prosciutto di San Daniele is darker in color and sweeter in taste. San Danielle is cut from the thigh of a pig bred in one of ten regions in Italy. Thanks Wikipedia!)

My response to her was as disgruntled and curt as hers had been. “Give me the cheaper one.”

Now should this employee have treated me differently? Depends on whether she wanted me to walk away with a positive or negative impression of our interaction. Let’s say that mine could have been better. Had management cleared laid out their expectations for this employee’s role within the organization? Obviously not. From where I sit, if you’re in charge of the specialty meats department, know your specialty meats. Assist the customer in meeting their needs. Maybe I would have purchased the more expensive cut. But at a minimum I would have walked away feeling like this employee knew her stuff and genuinely cared about her role within the organization and her customer’s needs. Bottom line…corporate culture fail on the part of management.

How hard is it to try to enhance the customer experience? Not very. But it must be instilled from the top down. “This is how we do it here” should be the credo of management. Only then will the faces of your organization, the front-line employees, know what they need to do to uphold these standards.

I’m still curious what that expensive Prosciutto di San Daniele tastes like. I think next time I’ll try it. From a different market.