Ethan Holmes and The Death of Customer Service

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We’ve all been there, done that; encountered those nightmare customer service menus from hell that seem to be particularly designed to surreptitiously cause you to become so frustrated with the process that you actually, willingly hang up. It’s my theory that these torturous, merry-go-round menus are deliberately and ingeniously designed to make you GO AWAY!

Why else would you often end up right back where you started from when you first called?

Better yet, raise your hand if you’ve ever spent ten minutes on this merry-go-round and never spoke to a real human!

Did you ever take note of the fact that, despite having accessed this magic menu which has been known to contain as many as a dozen options, for some mysterious reason, none of them has anything to do with whatever you are calling about? Mark my words; it’s designed that way.

In this so-called modern age of everything converting to digital, customer service has died a slow and painful death. Today, millions of people actually believe that email, texting and instant messaging are viable and valid forms of communication. (Don’t believe me? Take a look out your car window the next time you’re in traffic.) Unfortunately this includes the vast majority of businesses out there, large and small.

When was the last time you can recall walking into a business and getting a warm greeting from an employee or the owner? When was the last time somebody said, “How may I help you?”, and meant it?

More often than not I get one of the following; a blank stare, a grunt, an employee walking right by me without a word or two employees too busy hitting on each other to notice you.

My favorite development in the new digital world of “we don’t have customer service; we just want your money,” is the fact that many businesses now hide behind email. (An interesting fact I will insert here; I recently had a business owner EMAIL ME BACK saying he didn’t know what that meant! SAY WHAT?)

I am a fairly intelligent guy, self-taught, self-educated and no paper hanging on the wall; nevertheless pretty damn smart…, at least most of time when I’m not making life-changing decisions. (But that’s another story or two.) When I need customer service, it’s usually because I have already taken care of what I fondly call “the stupid stuff”. In other words, if there is something, anything that can be done on my end to solve the problem, it’s usually been done before I reach for the phone or sit down to write an email.

Usually something is broken, the object is defective or the instructions appear to have been written by a rhesus monkey who got hold of a meth pipe. For instance, recently, a piece of writing software I had been trying out wiped out an entire work-in-progress novel. (Thank the great author gods I had sent a Word copy to a friend.)

Now when something like that happens, or any similar scenario comes up that obviously requires immediate attention, (like perhaps you stick your brand new, motorized toothbrush in your mouth and it shorts out, causing your teeth to turn charcoal black and smoke to come out of your ears,) you don’t want to run over to your computer and write an email. You need help now; well, right after you call for an ambulance.

See, that’s my problem with supposed ’email customer service’. By the time I need help, I need it now, not ‘within forty eight hours’, not next week. In addition, I surely do not need to receive a message that tells me you’ve received my message. I need answers, solutions!

I’ve worked in jobs where customer service is a vital and integral part of the job. I used to sell computers and software for a major retail chain. I could write a book about that alone. Good customer service required that I tell the little, old lady that the CD tray is NOT a “cute, little cup holder”. It also required telling Dad that he didn’t need to return the $1800 computer he just bought his daughter “because it won’t come on”. (Yes, you really do need to plug it in sir, and no, there are not three gerbils, a conveyor belt with peanuts and a generator in the machine.)

I could go on and on. There was a customer who thought their brand new machine would simply “jump on the Internet all by itself” without the need to procure INTERNET SERVICE. Then there was the guy who bought a computer and then brought four of his buddies into the store to do the same so they “could all email each other” despite the fact that they all lived on the same block. I digress.

The point is, when people need customer service, they usually need it NOW. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. Email does not provide that and I wonder what went through that business owner’s mind when they implemented that. (Well, what am I saying? Of course, I know darn well what went through their mind; cost-cutting, money-savings, fewer employees, fewer customer problems you have to directly and promptly deal with.)

Email, because it is inherently automated and highly impersonal, often has the same disease as those merry-go-round menus; an inability to address the specific problem you have. How many times have you gone to the email menu that asks you to “select a problem” and none of them is your problem? It gets even funnier when you select a problem and it simply directs you to their “HELP” forum. There you can join  1,435 other beleaguered, frustrated ‘customers’ all floating around this cyber room desperately seeking answers to questions the business won’t answer. Now you get to ask each other if anyone has come up with a solution. HUH?

I miss the days when the word customer meant something; when businesses understood that we, the customer, are the lifeblood of your business.

I once made the mistake of telling a prospective employer that the saying, “the customer is always right” was completely wrong. “The customer,” I said, “is usually wrong and completely uneducated. But that is why we are here; to educate them. An educated customer is a buying customer and a happy customer.”

No, I didn’t get that job. What a surprise! The point is I know what the customer wants, I know what they need and I know how to take care of them, before and after the sale. I wonder why most businesses today either don’t get that or they don’t care.

My partial solution to all of this is really quite simple; own less crap. Take a moment to look around and think for a moment. How much crap do you own? How much time do you spend in your life taking care of some issue regarding that crap. You’ve got maintenance, warranties, gas and time to return the item to the store, shipping charges to return the item to the vendor, hundreds of dollars in batteries of all sizes and shapes, serial and registration numbers to be kept, receipts to be filed, updates to be performed and, of course, customer service to dance with.

Good grief, it’s a wonder we have time to do anything else except, in some way, take care of our crap. My partial solution for the moment; less crap, less need for customer service. I’m still working on a whole solution.

Ethan Holmes is the author of Live Your Life In A Crap Free Zone. Ethan Holmes is also the author of Earth’s Blood, The Keystone, Shorts and Other Laundry and A Multi-Pack of Brain Flakes

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About Ethan Holmes

Ethan Holmes currently resides in Northern Arizona and he is the author of seven published books; Earth's Blood, The Keystone, A Multi-Pack of Brain Flakes, Shorts and Other Laundry, Live Your Life In A Crap Free Zone, Water. and his new novella, The Town of Perfect. When he is not writing Ethan is also a professional freelance nature photographer.
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