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It’s a who needs who business climate; brands should take heed

A growing “they need us” culture is spreading in the customer service industry, and the disparate attitudes between the corporate office and boots on the ground is growing.

phone customer service

phone customer service

Brands are losing out to competitors for simple reasons

Personally, as a consumer, I don’t need you, and the only time I do need you is when your industry lobby forces me to need you. For example, cable tv, internet, phone, and other monopoly type situations. Consumers don’t like monopoly situations – at all. So what if you’re a small to enterprise business with all kinds of competition? Simply put, we don’t need you. Why would you think we do (I’m coming right back to this point in just a moment)?

My inspiration for this piece this week is Adidas’ phone customer service from their website. Right off the cuff, I have to give them props for even having a phone number present and a customer service department, but what’s the point when on the other end you have a jerk for a representative who seems to hate you, and the phone number you rode in on to begin with? I’m just sayin’ who needs you? No one. Nike is quite happy with my business, maybe they’re no better, but who knows, maybe their website works properly and I’ll never need to find out if the person on the other end wants to end me.

Seriously, the employees on the receiving end of the phone call have a monumental task of handling consumers in a way that keeps existing consumers. We all know the cost of acquisition of new customers, so companies like yours spend a lot of time and energy training representatives to handle customers, deescalate situations, and/or simply answer to the needs of customers, and even identify where policy may be stopping empowerment of reps to satisfy consumers. So where is the disconnect? If companies are so into customer service, invest so much in training and service, why the bad service?

The growing “they need us” culture

Having been in the corporate world myself, I’ve never personally worked in a corporate structure that had an overarching ethos of “they need us.” Nor would I ever be a part of one. In my experience however, ethos corruption begins at lower levels where shaving budgets leaves call centers, or retail stores with a different culture that works against the companies’ identity in a negative way. Overworked, underpaid, or even a lack of hours or benefits cause execution of the corporate ethos and great ideas of customer retention to go the other way – the wrong way. A disconnect between execution (call centers, retail stores), and corporate (where there is earning disparity) is also a breeding ground for those who really don’t care about the corporate desire to deliver the best customer service.

I see it a lot lately in fast food and retail stores where if you even raise your voice to make a point, the reaction by the employee seems to be one of escalating the situation, rather than deescalation and a show of simple empathy, an apology, and a resolution. Someone in this two-way situation doesn’t give a shit if you ever shop with them again – and the “if you don’t like it, leave” mentality has replaced satisfying common or uncommon grievances by consumers.

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I am convinced there is a growing pattern within our culture where the corporate mission is ignored by the representative on the ground the second the employee reacts by the scale of their paycheck, “I’m not paid enough to put up with this!” A sense of job entitlement has overcome today’s workforce, rather than the employee being grateful for the opportunity of a ladder to climb, and a sense of future within the company which used to serve to encourage great customer service and execution of the corporate mission.

How brands of any size can combat the viral problem

But how does a company fix this problem? Well, that’s not an easy fix when it seems to be a cultural shift, however, every company must assess whether that is in fact the issue, or is it simply outsourcing your call center infrastructure to third parties who really aren’t even aware that your company has an immense focus on customer retention?

In the retail front, or restaurant, it could be as simple as corporate recognition and association with the branches directly. Why do I say this? Because a pat on the back and encouragement to keep up the good work enforces ideals of the corporate ladder, and that the job really is a career, and every consumer is a step in the correct direction on the ladder. Upward mobility matters. This is why in a call center, infrastructure that is third party could be an epic step backwards and fly in the face of upward mobility within your company, because the fact is, they don’t even work for your company.

Take heed executives, get out of the office, and go experience this for yourself. Call into your own third-party customer service centers at all hours of the day and get a feel for various reactions to the many types of consumer calls. Stop depending upon the call center reps who listen to their coworkers, because chances are, those listeners don’t care either. Get out to your corporate-owned stores, and your franchise stores, and get a feel for yourself. It will not take long for you to understand that there is shifting sand under your corporate floor, and even observe it in your own personal daily interactions with other brands and stop lying to yourself that your company isn’t serving the same sour service, because I bet it is.

I’ve worn Adidas shoes most of my life, and knowing what I know about corporate structure, ethos, and execution, it’s likely not an Adidas principal to throw me away, but someone did, and I bet he makes a lot less than I spend. Think about it.

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Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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