In today’s modern business world, the watchword is “efficiency.” Most people, in the interest of squeezing the most hours out of working days, have automated as many customer service transactions as possible. It’s important to constantly evolve technology. It makes jobs easier in some very significant ways. But only one thing really makes or breaks a successful business: satisfied customers.

In the old days, customer service was a point of pride. Today, the customer is often made to feel as if he is a tiresome burden. Consider the homeowner, desperately trying to do the right thing and talk to his bank about negotiating a reasonable mortgage arrangement so he doesn’t default on his obligations. When he finally gets his call through, he is greeted with a voice message that makes him feel he has imposed on the company’s electronic time even before he has made his way through a maze of number selections to talk to a living, if disinterested, customer service agent who seems to be on a  mission to make him feel bad about himself. Ninety percent of the time, that person can’t help him anyway. God forbid they take the initiative to connect the caller to someone who might be able to help. Here’s a customer, who has a problem, who wants to do the right thing and pay his money and, thanks to streamlining and technology, he is treated like an inconvenience.

The whole automated, high-tech, super-connected world of commerce can make someone crazy. Take automated directory assistance. It is supposed to make life easier, right? Be sure to tell that unforgettable mechanical voice on the other end of the line how to spell that last name correctly. Otherwise the call risks being transferred to a “supervisor.” Or the mechanic who says “Have a good one,” as he walks away, without wiping the grease prints off a white vehicle. What’s that supposed to mean? Have a good what? A good time at the carwash? Paying attention to the customer has been replaced by paying attention to whatever smart phone, tablet, laptop or other technological device we are tethered to in a futile attempt to “be connected.”

Is it too much to ask, in these tough economic times, that employees take a little pride in their work? Maybe it is easier to appreciate the customer when people realize that the person calling or coming in the door for service is the main reason they have a job in the first place. Without them, everyone is just another number waiting in the unemployment line. Furthermore, kindness from an employer isn’t a sign of weakness and a signal to take advantage. Showing up a few minutes early and asking, “Is there anything else I can do before I go?” can help ease the grind of the 9-to-5 on both sides. Employers need to remember, too, that in these hard times when money is not an option as a motivator, a few kind words go a long way. Praise for a job well done is an inexpensive and effective reward.

In business, no matter how far technology goes, making a customer feel good and appreciated will go farther and will never become outdated. No matter how much Baby Boomers have gone high-tech, there is no replacement for the warm handshake, the face-to-face meeting or going eyeball-to-eyeball in a negotiation. It is human nature to communicate and connect with others. More than that, it’s the key to success. So, when people are being asked to spend their hard-earned dollars, the message they deserve to hear is: “Your business matters to me. You matter to me.”

 

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