I’m so confused. I just Googled “the importance of customer service,” and there were 596 million results. Clearly it is important, and there are a whole lot of people talking about it. Yet when push comes to shove, businesses seem to have utterly forgotten how to provide it. Or perhaps they think if they post some humanistic, pro-environment kumbaya mission statement on their websites that it makes them seem like they care…that it qualifies as customer service. Well, it doesn’t.

The Lululemon website includes the following paragraph…

OUR BEST LIFE…A constant that has never wavered is our desire to empower people to reach their full potential through providing the right tools and resources, and encouraging a culture of leadership, goal setting and personal responsibility. Our core values of quality, product, integrity, balance, entrepreneurship, greatness and fun are lived by our people every day and are at the heart of our unique company culture.”

And yet…when I went to a Lululemon store last weekend to buy some underwear for my daughter, I was “helped” by someone who was happy to show me where the underwear was displayed, but who had zero knowledge of the product. I was trying to figure out the difference between the white box and the gray box, since they both said things like “hipster,” “bikini” and “thong.” Yet when I asked my questions, the salesperson suggested that I read the box. Hadn’t she been trained? I asked if there was someone else at the store who might know about the products, Eventually, someone who did know the difference between the white box and the gray box came over and explained the fabric and design. Phew! All hope was not lost.

Another case in point…

As readers of my blog know, my mom has been home recovering from a compression fracture in her back. Thankfully she is well on the mend but not yet ready to function fully on her own.

Sunday morning at 7 am, she was informed that her caregiver for the day was not feeling well and would not be coming to my mother’s house. She asked, “Will a backup person be sent over?” The answer: “We will let you know.”

Hours went by with no phone call…so apparently there was no backup. Later in the afternoon, when I stopped by to check on her, we called the staffing service responsible for the caregivers to confirm that they would be sending someone the following day. This company is supposed to provide 24/7 care for people in need, but they don’t have someone monitoring the phones 24/7. Eventually the answering service located someone we could talk to. She “believed” that someone would be coming on Monday…but was not certain.

And when asked about backup staff available for emergencies like the one that had occurred, the response was, “Well, we called someone, but there was no answer.” Were they kidding?!?! You called and left it at that?

Fortunately, Mom is at a stage where she could be on her own, and my siblings and I live close by so we could stop in to check on her. But what if she did not have family in the area or her condition was more serious? Then she could not have been on her own. How on earth can an in-home caregiving service not have staff available? And worse yet, how can they be so inaccessible to people in need?

Providing care and customer service is more than a slogan on a website. It is a culture that focuses on the customer experience and ensures that every member of the team has the tools and training required to satisfy their customers’ needs. It is a culture that takes its training seriously to be sure that salespeople understand the product and communicate the benefits to customers. It is a culture that understands that it is in business because of its customers, not in spite of them, and that focusing on cutting expenses and maximizing profitability undermines the business’s ability to provide an excellent product/service.

But customer service also starts at the individual level. It is a mind-set and a value system. No one should have to tell someone whose job requires them to deal directly with customers to care about the customer experience. And he/she shouldn’t have to be told to make every effort to answer a customer’s question and to call back if you say you will call back. Customer service starts with actually remembering that we are all customers at some point in time and simply applying the golden rule of life—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How do you want to be treated? It is so incredibly basic. Simply care enough to make an effort, even if that effort requires getting out of your chair or your comfort zone.

One more story so you know that all hope is not lost. Today I needed to order the company holiday greeting cards. Why me? My assistant is on medical leave, but that’s another story for another day. We all pitch in when work needs to get done.

I went to one of those trendy websites that has a wide selection of nicely designed photo greeting cards. Lovely, decent prices…fast service. Perfect! Except that nowhere on the site could I find out how long it takes for the order to actually be filled. I tried calling. After lots of ringing, a voice-activated menu suggested that I leave a message…or send an e-mail—they promise they will respond in only three to five business days. Seriously? What about all that great online user-friendly karma?

Enough with the dot-com world. I called the local Rapid Press print shop two blocks away. I spoke to a lovely man named Curt who gave me an immediate price estimate—right away, and no push-one-push-two on the phone. What about the price? One-third of the price for the online order for the same format. How about timing? 24-hour turnaround. I can drop the file off tomorrow and pick the cards up the day after. Thank you, local business!

Good-bye, attractive yet impersonal website. Good-bye, noncaring caregiver provider. Good-bye, hipster chain store. Good-bye do-it-yourself stores and websites. There are people out there who still understand the meaning and value of service, and I am willing to seek them out and reward their efforts.

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