Our Service Economy Needs Better Service

"If there is a telephonic equivalent to road rage, we’ve probably all experienced it."

By David P. Kowal, APR

If we are living in a service economy, why is it so difficult to get service?

How many times has this happened to you? The voice mail says, “Your call is important to us, please hold.” You hold. Minutes later, you punch in “0,” hoping to bypass voice mail hell. The same electronic voice that told you how important you are says, “I’m sorry. I don’t recognize that number.” You are asked to dial an extension, but you don’t know the extension of the person you are trying to reach. You try to punch in the person’s last name, which seems to contain every consonant at the back end of the alphabet. Still no humans. You decide everyone has been abducted by aliens. You call Mulder and Scully, and take your business elsewhere.

As you read this, this scenario is being played out in countless offices across America. If there is a telephonic equivalent to road rage, we’ve probably all experienced it. But reaching a human being by telephone can be equally annoying. Often the “receptionist” or “operator” recognizes that her job will be a great deal easier if fewer people call, so she does everything possible to discourage callers. I say “she” because these are the lowest paying jobs on the food chain, and few men are willing to take them.

Of course many receptionists are terrific, well-mannered people. But too often companies put ill-mannered employees with minds of putty on the switchboard. Try asking a receptionist for an e-mail address and you’ll see what I mean. Corporate America seems to have forgotten that the receptionist is the first line of contact with the company’s customers. If the receptionist doesn’t care, it leaves the impression that no one else at the company cares.

Equally annoying in today’s service economy is the trend toward casual dress. It started when some creative benefits manager got the brainstorm of casual Fridays. By allowing employees to dress like slobs on Fridays, theoretically they would not feel as though they were working. Not realizing that this benefit was given in place of a raise, employees embraced the idea, figuring that they could not only dress casually on Friday, but work casually as well.

Casual Fridays have worked so well, that they have crept into the rest of the work week. Now, in much of corporate America, every day is casual day. We have become a nation of slobs.

So why dress up? It’s a matter of respect not only for your customers, but for yourself. Want to improve your company’s image and create a sense of pride? Try dressing properly. And require those who work for you to dress up.

Want to gain a competitive advantage? Ditch the voice-mail system. Have a live human being answering the telephone. If you have a receptionist, make certain she understands the importance of her job. Pay her a little more than other receptionists, but expect more.

Maybe you could even install a direct line and try answering your own phone. Your customers might appreciate it.

David P. Kowal, APR is President of Kowal Communications, Inc. of Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at kowal@kowal.com.