Breakdown Dead Ahead: The Decline of Customer Service

A lot has changed since before the global pandemic. Some things for the better like the freedom of remote working, and other things not so much like the decline of customer service. Maybe the latter has been going downhill for awhile and I just haven’t been paying as much attention as I should have. But let me tell you, during the month of May my experiences with customer service (or lack thereof) was magnified in multiple directions like the end of a fireworks display. I could no longer ignore it. It wasn’t just one company, it was a string of bad experiences with several. I’m going to focus on just one in this article (it was the most painful).

The worst by far was an experience that had to do with my MacBook Pro (which I consider as my ‘business partner’ of sorts, as it’s the primary tool I rely on for my work). Given Apple is my alma mater, and I’ve been using Mac products for several decades, I consider myself reasonably savvy with most issues. My MacBook Pro started behaving strangely — it’s less than two years old — and one of the Geniuses diagnosed it with a failing logic board, the heart of the Mac.

The way things worked out, the guys at the local store said they would need to send it one of the Apple Repair Centers to be worked on — and the turnaround time would be maybe 3–5 days. Thank goodness it was under warranty so the work would be done at no cost to me. But the 3–5 day estimate turned out to be more like three weeks when all was said and done, which was incredibly inconvenient (!). The blame was placed on supply chain back order; however, what really irked me was that there were no status updates sent out along the way other than the initial one that confirmed my MacBook was received at the Repair Center somewhere in Texas.

In past times, you’d be able to work with the folks at the Genius Bar who were dealing with your issue, and coordinate with the folks at Apple Support online, AND the repair center. Someone at the repair center would be a lead point of contact with your Genius Bar point of contact, and the former would have ‘eyes’ on your computer and be able to readily communicate status with your Genius Bar point of contact. ALL parties within Apple could let you know where things were at any given time, give you status updates, and often you’d get a status e-mail in lieu of calling. That whole process has broken down entirely it seems.

The good news is, while the timeline and hassle factors were protracted, my story has a happy ending. The two female senior managers at my local Apple Store who oversee the Genius Bar folks and on-site repairs finally took charge of my case and hand-held the process on my behalf. I finally got my Mac back and am rolling once again. What a relief, though I lost a month and experienced a LOT of frustration in the process. Apple prides itself on customer service and satisfaction; it’s baked into the Apple culture/code. It was maddening to experience otherwise.

However, to be fair, while I’ve focused on Apple here — the truth is nearly all consumers have had unsatisfying experiences with customer service in 2021 with a wide range of companies, according to a 2022 Global Consumer Trends report . The study, which collected input from over 23,000 consumers across 23 countries about their experiences with companies in 2021, found that 80% of people believe customer experiences need to be improved. Poor customer service is the second most common reason people said they would cut spending (prices and fees were number one).

The 2022 Global Consumer Trends report comes as the pandemic continues to impact operations around the world, and makes clear that consumers are missing a personalized, human element in their relationship with businesses. 62% of global consumers said businesses need to care more about them, and 63% of consumers said companies need to get better at listening to their feedback.

A related survey called the 2020 National Customer Rage Study was created by Arizona State University. The summary of that study is that customer service is worse than ever and that more people are enraged about it. More than two-thirds of the 1,000 people polled experienced a product or service problem in the previous 12 months, and nearly two-thirds of them said it made them “very” or “extremely” upset — feeling “customer rage.” The number of households experiencing consumer difficulties has increased dramatically, the survey found.

Other findings include:

  • The most common area for problems was technology (internet, email, software, hardware, tech support), listed by 19% of respondents, followed by cable/satellite TV, 18%; automobile, 12%; cell phone, 6%; and airline, 5%.
  • Airlines drew the highest percentage of complainants with rage, at 77%.
  • $494 billion is at risk to businesses as a result of their most serious customer problems.
  • Customers make an average of about three contacts to resolve a problem, with about 10% of respondents making six or more attempts at satisfaction.

More than half of respondents — 58% — felt like their complaining led to nothing. The result for companies is bad word of mouth, with dissatisfied customers telling an average of seven people about their experience. And of course many of us rely on online reviews these days.

These two surveys are well worth your time to review; I encourage you to do so if you’re inclined to dig into this topic further. But at a high level I know you get the basic premise.

We don’t want to invest hours of our precious time being transferred from one incompetent person to the next who is ill-equipped to address our needs, and who seemingly don’t care, only to reach the promise of resolution having escalated to a senior level advisor — only to get disconnected — and have to start the process all over again. We aren’t getting our problems resolved to our satisfaction, and companies don’t seem to care about taking care of us.

Dealing with customer issues takes resources and many companies are understaffed, and yet as with most challenges with companies — the ultimate outcome and results start at the top, with leadership who truly care about their customers, and addressing/resolving their concerns.

Have you experienced customer service challenges yourself? By contrast, have you experienced outstanding customer service where you were fully satisfied? I’d love to hear what you’ve observed if you’re inclined to share.

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Kelli Richards

Kelli Richards

KELLI RICHARDS is a seasoned ’super-connector’, a trusted advisor & a strategic bus dev exec bridging innovators & creatives. Learn more at “kellirichards.com