The Next Generation of Customer Service?
Having recently left the retail industry, I took some time to reflect on my experiences in selling and customer service. I observed that there may indeed be a generational gap between the expectations of service in my parents’ generation, and my own. Interestingly enough I also noticed that customer service and sales often have little to do with one another.
Baby-Boomers and Older Need to be Coddled
As a young lad I remember going into stores with my dad, and whether the salespersons were busy or not he would leave if he couldn’t receive attention. I asked why and he would say “if they’re not going to help me, then I’m not buying anything from them.” My take on the issue is that salespeople are a fail-safe when a customer doesn’t have enough steam to figure it out on their own. The only time I leave a store is when I am attempting to pay for the items that I want, and the line is too long or there’s no one around to take the money. (I put the items back)
My Dad’s generation came out of the Industrial Age, where after WW2 the world made so many products they needed a huge sales force to sell them. Salespersons were paid on commission–they needed to do whatever it took to keep customers happy and coming back. There was also no internet, so they were the only shop in town. Our parents got spoiled!
My Generation Only Cares About Customer Service in Certain Situations
When I asked around for other opinions I found most hold the same service priorities that I do–returns/exchanges and restaurants. I really don’t care what level of help there is in stores until things get hairy and I need to wring a neck or two while returning something. Seeing this pattern, I’ve concluded that my generation is a product of the information age. Information having the highest value of all commodities in our society–the greatest value of salespersons/ customer service is in the information that they are able to impart on us.
We are accustomed to the pattern of first researching things online, learning everything that we need to know and then if we decide to buy something in person–we are executing a directive, not in most cases seeking additional information or looking to build a relationship. And as the internet (Zappo’s) has trained us, when something isn’t right we want to return it seamlessly and instantly.
This level of “informational independence” also stems from my generation’s distrust of authority and die-hard self-reliance, in my opinion bred partly from the increase of single-parent/divorced families. As the age-old saying goes, if you want something done right–do it yourself. Most salespersons today also aren’t paid commission, so there actually isn’t any economic incentive to “go the extra mile,” and if you haven’t read Freakonomics yet, people RESPOND to incentives.
The Missing Correlation of Customer Service vs. Sales Results
I contest that sales credibility is infinitely more valuable to a sales transaction/relationship than is “superior customer service.” In my observations, I witnessed several associates delivering beautiful amounts of personalized service but in the end it either took too long, didn’t deliver a solution, or was so overbearing that the customers were actually weirded out by the exuberance. When I worked at Apple I worked incredibly hard to give good customer service–and I wasn’t such a great salesperson… It sometimes is effective for individual customers, but at too great a cost for everyone else who wasn’t serviced.
The smartest brands understand this. When I look back at my Apple 5th Ave. training, we spent 40 hrs. training and of that time only about 8 hrs. involved studying good customer service practice. PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE is more important than the delivery, simply because it is the embodiment of INFORMATION. Especially in New York, where flagship stores are always packed; people have to deliver the facts, immediately.
Coming from the “South” (Eastern Maryland), I was appalled at how kurt my coworkers in both Apple and EMS (my retail stints) often were with customers. I soon realized however, that those staff members were actually the top-performers and the most-regarded by customers! There’s a curious degree of psychology involved here:
Scarce time is valuable time
By giving fast answers, speeding up the clock of things and delivering accurate quips of information, it is established that “this person’s time is valuable–I should listen to what he/she says.” Think of it like this, for my generation–the more closely you can embody the function of the internet, the more rewarding and valuable you will be for the customer experience.
Part 2. Restaurants – The Final Frontier (Coming Soon)