The Customer is Always Right? Not Anymore

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Dying customer service

Ever walk around a store aimlessly looking for a sale associate? Maybe you needed assistance reaching an item, or had a question about a product? Good luck finding anyone willing to go that extra step for you. As for that old adage, the customer is always right? Not anymore, in most places.

Customer Service? What’s that?

Since the 1960’s, companies operated under the premise that the customer is always right. This philosophy helped many companies build a loyal customer base. Sadly, this guiding principal is falling out of favor. Though this shift isn’t advertised, it seems the days of pleasing customers are over.

All it takes is a quick scroll on social media to find a rant about customer service. Complaints range from poor service, shoddy repair work to lack of product support. In a growing number of cases, customers complain that employees are out right rude. So, what’s behind this shift?

Growing lack of civility

One of the most noticeable changes is the apathy employees display. In days past, sales associates greeted customers with a smile. Along with the smile, employees asked how they could be of service. Though some felt this was too “pushy”, the majority of customers appreciated feeling welcome. Furthermore, employees would put in more effort, when needed, to solve a problem.

In today’s marketplace, customers are hard pressed to even find an employee.  When one is located, it is more likely that he or she will avoid eye contact hoping they won’t be bothered. When a customer approaches an employee with a question, the employee denies the request or says  he or she can’t help. At other times, a worker will ignore a customer while continuing a personal conversation with a co-worker or friend. The customer is always right? Not so much anymore.

Companies valued loyalty

Back in the early 50’s and 60’s, franchises and corporations had yet to come into their own. For that reasons, business owners knew they had to earn a customer’s business. Many companies began to award customer loyalty with special savings and discounted rates. This courtesy was spread by word of mouth and many businesses enjoyed a loyal customer base.

These benefits extended to hospitality and service industries, where customer loyalty could earn significant savings. In fact, many customers were offered preferential treatment in an effort to ensure customers would continue to support a favored business. Sadly, the rise of monopolies has helped squash loyalty perks in favor of greater quantities of customers.

Mega-corporations look at numbers

The federal government once set anti-trust regulations to help safeguard customer rights. Over time, those safeguards have been eroded as more and more companies have received permission to merge and combine services. Unfortunately, in this process, services are often restructured and, most of the time, prices are raised.

Once upon a time, current and long-term customers were offered attractive rates to retain as many customers as possible. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. For example, cable companies once offered bundle packages to established customers so that they would be content to re-sign. Now, once these special rates expire, many long-time customers find themselves facing significant rate hikes for the same services.

If you were unable about a rate hike, retention specialists worked to make you happy by offering a compromise in either services or prices. Sadly, with the constant mergers, business no longer feel the pressure to keep customers as there are so many others to buffer the profits. Even threats to cancel services are met with a thank you for your time and good luck with your new provider.

Complaints are often ignored

If the product you bought broke in short order, it used to be an inconvenience at most. You simply returned the item to the store and either got a replacement or a refund. Its not so simple anymore. Try calling a service department for a time for a repair call. Once you get through the automated service, you will probably wait weeks for an appointment. If the item broke or malfunctions, most of the time, the customer service department will tell you to call the manufacturer.

If you successfully plead your case for a refund, don’t hold your breath waiting on anyone to apologize for a faulty product. Instead, you leave the store somehow feeling like a criminal. If you call a store to file a complaint, you won’t make out much better, most companies offer excuses or cite company policy as an answer.

Will the customer ever be right, again?

The internet eliminated much of the hassle of shopping. Unfortunately it has also eliminated the human touch. There was something about going to a store and making eye contact with another person that made the experience almost enjoyable. A smile and a warm greeting can go a long way in leaving a positive impression.

Maybe some customers took advantage of a company’s willingness to please. There are some people who just seem determined to be unhappy. Maybe these few bad apples ruined the pie for all of us. Or maybe its the general lack of warmth that is getting worse in everyday interactions. Whatever the problem, it may be too late to return to the days when you felt your business was appreciated. When it comes to this aspect, yes, the customer is always right. If they aren’t happy, they won’t be back. And social media will get an earful.


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