Technology can either help customer service a whole lot, or it can harm it a whole lot, depending on how it’s used. It’s like a weapon. You can use a knife to cut a steak, or you can use a knife to hurt somebody. And I think the technology is being used the same ways, where they’re trying to save themselves time and energy and effort. And they’re forgetting the fact that there are other human beings on the other end of that technology.

David: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. In today’s episode, co-host Jay McFarland and I will be discussing the idea of customer service. Is it well and truly dead? Welcome Jay.

Jay: Well, I think it depends upon the industry, but I’m going to say it’s more dead than not as far as I can tell.

David: Yeah, it’s sad. And I feel like in some businesses, in the best businesses, it’s not dead.

And it creates a tremendous advantage for those who are still keeping it alive, whether on life support or just because it’s the way they do business. But wow. I have had so many experiences recently where it seems like not only is the customer service unresponsive, uncooperative, unpleasant…

Jay: Mm-hmm

David: And there’s just this level of apathy that seems to go with it, which when you combine those things, really does seem pretty deadly.

Jay: Yeah. And I think there is a temptation — because there’s such great technology out there — there is a temptation to say, “look, we can cut our costs if we just implement this new technology that maybe answers questions online” or “press one for this or for that.”

I can see the temptation, but I don’t know if they clearly understand the frustration. I’ll tell you one of my pet peeves right now are the chatbots.

I’ll go online and they’ll say, “Hey, if you don’t want to sit on hold,” which is an admission already that you don’t have enough people, ” go ahead, just chat with us.” And I’m thinking I’m going to get a live person. And no, I get a chatbot and I type in my question and it sends me to a predefined link that doesn’t answer my question.

And I’m like, “I’ve just wasted 15 minutes and I could have been on hold the whole time.” So, very cool tech, but on the customer end, I think it’s frustrating a lot of people.

Does Technology Help or Hurt Customer Service?

David: It really can, particularly because technology can either help customer service a whole lot, or it can harm it a whole lot, depending on how it’s used.

It’s just like any other weapon, right? It’s like a weapon. You can use a knife to cut a steak, or you can use a knife to hurt somebody. And I think the technology is being used the same ways, where they’re trying to save themselves time and energy and effort. And they’re forgetting that there are other human beings on the other end of that technology.

But even beyond that, tech aside, there are now situations where you leave a message for somebody, or you send them an email. I mean, that is obviously tech as well, but if the human being behind the email does not respond to the email or they don’t return the phone call or they don’t return the voicemail or they don’t return the text. Now it’s actually more human error than tech error.

And that’s where I think customer service is really struggling right now. Because if you’ve got well-meaning well-intentioned people who are determined to use the technology to make customer service better, then those companies are not just going to survive, they’re going to thrive.

But the problem is there are people in organizations who just don’t care enough about the customers to even do the basic minimum things like returning phone calls, returning voicemails, and that sort of thing.

Jay: Yeah. And then there’s the question of, you know, how do you know if you’re a business? How do you know if those calls are being returned? How do you gauge your customer service? Do you have a system to follow up with customers to see what their experience was like?

If you don’t have a system to gauge that, you may be in real trouble because of your customer service and not even know it.

David: We were talking in a previous episode about the idea of when costs are increased and you have to look for places to cut back. When there are situations where a company is employing people who are not taking care of the customer, if you’ve got to cut back personnel, that’s the best place to start.

If there are people who will not be educated, and who are unwilling to learn what it takes to continue conversations with clients, that is really problematic.

And so for the people who are serious about growing and expanding their business, who are serious about maintaining the type of customers that make you want to go to work in the morning, instead of the type of customers that make you want to run screaming from the room? Then it really means that we’ve got to up our game.

We have to up our game from a customer service standpoint, a management standpoint, and an ownership standpoint, to ensure that our people are being taken care of. And as consumers, I think it’s essential for us to let businesses know when we feel like they’re falling down on the job.

Because you’re right. They might not know it. And they might not have the systems in place that they should have in place to track that. So if they don’t, really, the only thing that’s going to get their attention is the squeaky wheel, right? The customer who says, “Hey, listen, this is the experience I had, is this what you meant to do to me?”

Jay: Yeah. And unfortunately, I think from the research and surveys I’ve seen, people are more likely to just stop using you than they are to tell you that they had a problem.

Or they’ll go online and they’ll give you a nasty review. The nasty review can be a source of finding out where your problems are. But a lot of times I think customers just say, well, I’m done with them and they move on to the next guy.

David: That’s exactly right. And most of the time that’s what I would do, I would say, “Okay, that’s it. Never going back there again,”

I recently had a situation where we went to a restaurant that we go to pretty frequently. And I got an email from them saying that I had a $15 credit that was good till the end of the month. It was some sort of promotion or something like that. And I use their promotions frequently, so I was like, “oh, okay. I got a $15 credit. Let’s use it.”

It was close to the end of the month. I said to my wife, “Hey, we should go here and grab some food.” It was, I think it was the 30th. It was going to expire on the 31st. We hadn’t planned to go out, but I thought, okay, $15 credit. I’ll use that. Right. Drop it on the floor. See how quickly I pick it up. And so we went to the restaurant, and had a great meal. Good time. The server was fantastic. Got to the end.

Attempted to use the coupon. “Oh no. That’s only for people who took part in this particular promotion that went from this date to this date and who bought a gift card.” And I was like, “I don’t think it said all that in the email I got.”

So she apologized and she was very nice about it. And like I said, I go there frequently, I like the place. But when I got home, I’m like, “this does not sit well with me.”

So I submitted essentially a review, not an online review that people could see. I submitted it to their complaint department, which would go to somebody who could read it and address it.

And I got a call back the very next day from the manager who apologized for the confusion. He said, “don’t worry, we’re going to take care of this for you. I see you’re a good customer,” I’m like a frequent rewards member, stuff like that. Go there a lot. So they saw how much we spent and the guy was great. He made it right.

And in those situations you can say, “all right, whew. That’s good. Glad I was able to bring it to their attention and I’m glad they were willing to address it.” But there are a lot of businesses who are just like, “eh, yeah, too bad.” Gone.

Jay: Yeah, and this is one of the things that bothers me. It’s that I think sometimes businesses, fear the customer that is complaining. And really they should be looked at as an opportunity. Because I’m going to bet that even though you had a bad experience with that restaurant, the fact that they called you right back after that whole process, I’m going to bet you’re more loyal to that restaurant. Because we all know that nobody’s perfect.

All we want to know is that if they make a mistake that they’ll fix it, that they’ll solve it. And if we know that, we’re going to be more loyal, not less loyal. So having good customer service, especially when it’s complaints, I think is an incredible way to build loyalty.

David: Yeah. And I think also when you’re complaining, you don’t want to burn bridges. Because if you’re a jerk about it, they’re going to be a lot less likely to help you.

When I reported this incident, I talked about the fact that the food was really good. The server was great. It was a great experience, except for this one thing. And so I gave them an honest evaluation of what happened and they responded appropriately.

But when we think about the idea of customer service, I like to believe that customer service is not dead, particularly among the companies that are smart about it and take it very seriously.

I think that it does give a tremendous advantage to the people who are committed to fixing things that go wrong and who are committed to continuing to look for opportunities to make things better than what other people are doing. And to better serve their customers.

With technology, it can and should be easier when we utilize it the right way and when we put that first. When we put the idea of engaging our customers, keeping them happy, and keeping them coming back, that’s going to do more to improve customer service than anything else we could probably talk about.

Jay: Yeah. You talk about how technology can help improve things. There are so many situations like food delivery services or things like that, that I use now, where the minute my transaction is done, I get a prompt “please rate your service. Please rate the experience.”

And I do it every time. I would never go to their website and do it. But because I’m prompted immediately to do it, I do it right then. It’s just become a habit because I want to reward those people that did a great job and they’re giving me a way to do it. But if I don’t see it right that second, I’m not going to be proactive and go out and find a way to do it.

One of the other things that frustrate me with customer service is that companies are afraid to empower their frontline employees. Allowing them to make decisions. In your example with the restaurant, I believe that what the best situation would’ve been for that server to say, “I apologize for the confusion. I’m going to give you the discount anyway.” And…

David: Mm-hmm

Jay: so right then you’re like, “wow, that was the right response.” So I understand if it’s a big deal, you know, having to get approval from a manager or something like that. But I think the best situations are when that frontline person can just say, “you know what, you’re exactly right. Let me give you that discount.” And then you move on. You salvage the situation right away.

David: Yeah, I agree. I think they probably had some latitude, but they didn’t have that level of latitude. They probably had the ability to bonus you a dessert or something like that, but maybe not take $15 off the bill or whatever.

But you’re right. I think a lot of it goes back to the whole idea of the systems. If the systems you have in place are set up to empower the employee to fix problems immediately, it’s better than having to stew on it. Drive home, write something on a website and wait for a response. If it had been resolved immediately, you’d be like, “that’s great.”

And even now, I mean, I’m happy it was resolved well. But I feel like every business should be able to learn from the good experiences they have and from the not so good experiences they have. And look at that and say, “how could I have done that better? How would I have handled that if it happened in my organization,”

Jay: I think also looking for trends. People sometimes fear looking at the results, but if you do have a good system to harvest these things, you can change your systems, identify trends where things are falling down, identify employees that are representing your company on the frontline and they’re regularly getting complaints or issues.

You know, if you’re just haphazard about your customer service, you may not know that you’re losing customers or that people are being frustrated. And if that’s the case, it may be too late by the time you find out.

David: And it’s so easy to send an email to your best customers, just asking what sort of experience they’re having. “How are things going? Do you have any questions? Do you have any concerns?”

It’s also a great thing to do with people that you haven’t heard from in a while. If there are people who have ordered from you regularly in the past, and you haven’t heard from them lately, You can just drop ’em an email, and ask them how things are going, because you can find out things that you might not know otherwise.

And if they’ve already moved on to what they consider to be greener pastures, that’s not going to be good. So it’s not just a matter of providing the best service you can. It is a matter of finding out are people perceiving that as well? Because it’s one thing if we think we’re providing great service. If our clients don’t feel that way, then essentially we’re not.

Jay: Yeah, it’s also a great opportunity for the upsell. And I think that’s where people miss out. So again, looking at customer service as an opportunity, I think is so important.

Very good. So how can people find out more?

David: Okay. Well, you can go to if you’d like to schedule a time or we can just discuss what’s going on in your business, and where you’re struggling. If you’re struggling with customer service, if you’re struggling with growing sales, growing profits, we can walk you through a couple of questions to try to find out where you are, where you’re looking to be, and see if we can help.

If we can help. We’ll let you know that if we can’t, we’ll let you know that too. You can go to to schedule a time that works for you. Again, that’s

Jay: Yeah, I love that you’re offering that service, David. Sometimes it’s just a matter of having people vocalize their issues and having somebody to talk about it. Or talk with other people in similar industries. So I think that this is a real benefit that you’re offering.

David: Very good. Thanks so much, Jay.

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