Customer Service or Customer Contempt: Which Would You Prefer?

Customer Service or Customer Contempt: Which Would You Prefer?

We hear it all the time:  “Great customer service” claims touted in TV commercials, magazine ads and wherever else an advertising exec can catch our attention.  Whether it be for auto insurance, cell phone service or satellite TV service, it matters not, a service business will say they have it.  Of course, each claim of fantastic customer service goes unquestioned, as if simply saying it makes it true.

When Customer Service Becomes Customer Contempt

auto insurance customer service

Source: LA Times story

I got to thinking about that this past weekend after reading a stunning story about an auto insurance brokerage with offices all over the place.  They are called Adriana’s and they had what was a very, err…  notable customer service faux pas.  It seems they settled an assault complaint with an elderly man.  Yes, their representative is said to have assaulted a potential customer.  Worse yet, it was an ELDERLY potential customer.  Of course, I don’t know what happened in their office that day.  Also, it would be easy to imagine that perhaps Adriana’s had a bad apple in their employ.  That’s not the end of it though.  What happened after they settled the matter is what’s really eye opening.  Rather than make try to make amends, apologize and/or demonstrate how such a thing should never be tolerated, they instead let their real ‘character’ shine through.  They paid the poor man in coins.  Buckets upon heavy buckets of change.  Clearly they meant to double down on the type of attitude that demonstrates not ‘customer care’ but rather ‘customer contempt’.  The same attitude that might create an environment where assault allegations might arise, for example.

Customer Service Is Disappearing All Over

While an extreme example, that incident is telling of a far greater problem.  Widespread throughout our society and economy, the feeling that “the customer is there for our benefit, we are not there for theirs”.  “Our convenience and profits are more important than serving our customers”  quickly becomes “Our time is more valuable than theirs.”  If I wanted to demonstrate this attitude, I could easily call a large insurance company.  For demonstration purposes I’ll call them…  oh I don’t know..,  The Lizard Insurance Company.  (Keep in mind this lizard should not be taken to represent any actual lizard, living or dead, English accent or not.  Furthermore, no lizards were harmed during the making of this point.)  Call The Lizard 1,000 times and the phone will be answered by a computer 1,000 times.  To make this point, I tried, err…  I WOULD try calling their “customer service” line.  It would take me a full 1 minute and 55 seconds and half-a-dozen steps doing the “Touch Tone Tango” just to get a live human.  That’s two minutes of wasted customer time for each similar call they get from a customer wanting to speak to someone.  Could a large corporation (wealthy enough to hire the world’s only talking lizard, no less) afford to hire a few people to answer the phone right off the bat and direct them to the proper department?  You bet that they could.  Would it waste far less of their customers’ time and provide a much better customer experience?  You bet that it would.  Unfortunately, someone there decided they could save a few bucks by letting a computer do the job.  They decided that inconveniencing their customers was worth it, that the customers’ time is worth less than theirs.  While this doesn’t rise to the level of customer contempt, it could certainly be argued that it devalues the time of the customer.  Essentially, it is a move towards self-service as opposed to customer service.

Truth be told, it’s a stretch even call those automated systems “customer service“.  After all, their very purpose is to prevent you from talking to a human being.  If you are able to navigate their system for 4-5 minutes to answer your own question as opposed to the 30 seconds it might take one of their call center employees to answer the same question, the better for them.  They save money if they move the service burden from themselves to the customer.  And after all, none of us really knows how much money it takes to keep a lizard flush with crumpets.  The big takeaway though, they are trying to avoid customer service, not provide it.

How Their Customer Service Attitude Can Cost YOU Money

However, a third example again from my own industry to find the same attitude costing people not only time, but money.  If you read my previous article regarding auto insurance broker fees, you will probably take from that that I view most broker fees that are charged as customer abuse, pure an simple.  Preying on the unsophisticated, some agencies will charge hundreds of dollars in fees from a customer for things like starting a policy, making a change and even taking a payment.  Why do they charge these fees?  Quite simply, because they can.  So this is yet another example of how a business loses its customer focus and instead focuses on itself.

Where Does Great Customer Service Come From?

The best run companies realize that it is the customer who makes their very existence possible.  They make sure their culture reflects the knowledge that serving customers is the reason for their efforts, not a distraction from them.  Until they weave this philosophy into the very fabric of their culture, their promises of “great customer service” ring hollow.  Customers recognize superior customer service as well and will develop brand loyalty and become repeat customers for years to come.  They recognize the difference between a company that focuses on them versus a company that simply focuses on their money.