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Opinion: Where did customer service go?

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It’s no secret the COVID-19 lockdowns detrimentally impacted the small-business owner in a big way. Equally so, yet from a different view, is the toll it’s taken on the consumer.

These lockdowns denied customers the freedom to trade in their businesses and created big pockets of pent-up demand that are still here today. However, many products have become scarce, along with the labor needed to produce them. We find ourselves with heavy demand and razor-thin supply. As a result, customer service has become collateral damage. 

As business owners, it is our job to recognize trends and adjust our strategy accordingly. One trend that hits me like a brick is the sharp decline in customer service. Instead of being greeted as you walk into a fast-food restaurant, the employees now yell, “You can’t come in here. Go to the drive-thru. The lobby is closed.” In that specific instance, taking our money to a different restaurant was easier. If you walk up to a store at 3:30 p.m., you may be met with a sign on the door that says, “Closed, sorry.” Recently, a co-worker was sent into the gated area of a lumberyard and wound up selecting his items and loading his truck alone because no one came to help him. His only assistance was a “Have a nice day” as he was leaving. Should I even mention the airlines? OK, that’s a whole different column. These examples could go on, ad nauseam.

Capitalism at work
It’s like the world flipped a switch and just started accepting a new level of customer service. If this trend continues, the company that can super-serve the customer in the future may win big as there will be far less customer service competition. One company’s loss could be another’s gain. It will be the competitor that makes the customer feel valued that will win.  

We’re all guilty of letting customer service slip when things get stressful. But businesses exist to serve the customer, not the other way around. It’s why capitalism works. Customer service is one of the abiding principles that has contributed to building and sustaining businesses for centuries. We can look to Walt Disney, who built a company on a superior customer service platform where he trained his employees to be aware that they’re there mainly to help guests and made his theme parks the No. 1 attraction in the world.

Secret weapon
Customers have been empathetic to the challenges businesses faced during the pandemic. However, that tolerance has lessened, and too many companies still use it as an excuse for poor service. This is our new world, and business owners must find ways to adapt to it and evolve. I understand that labor struggles, supply line issues and the government’s helpful hand create complete chaos. As business owners, however, we can choose to join in and accept this new basement level of customer service or work hard to remember that we exist for the customer. It’s the secret weapon in our toolbox.

While other companies may lose sight of it, it may be easier to win with customer service in the future than it used to be. And it just might be the thing that pulls small businesses through this. 

Donnie Brawner is CEO and owner of Paragon 360 and Paragon Fabrication. He can be reached at dbrawner@paragon360.com.

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