Annie Lane: What happened to customer service?
Published 5:24 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Dear Annie: Am I the only one who is annoyed by the lack of customer service in our country today? I am in my 70s, and I vividly remember the days when I would call a hotel to make a reservation. A live human being would answer the phone and handle my request.
Now we have to use our computers to find the hotel. Very often, the phone number on the hotel’s website goes to a third party that books the reservation and knows nothing about the actual hotel. If you ask a question like, “Do you keep the swimming pool heated?” the answer is that the person on the phone doesn’t have the faintest idea.
It used to be easy to call an airline to make a reservation. Once again, real people answered the phone — usually on the first or second ring. You could ask questions, change your mind, find alternatives and hang up with your flight and seat secured just the way you wanted it.
Now calling an airline requires waiting, being put on hold and being given a series of choices; everything is designed to send you back to your computer to proceed online. At my age, this is incredibly frustrating, especially because I remember when the airlines took pride in customer service.
How about dealing with your bank? I remember the days when I knew my banker and could call her up to ask a question, and she was always courteous, personal and efficient. Now I feel like you need a degree in computer science just to get the answer to a simple question.
The same is true with medical care. For many years, our family had the same doctor, who took pride in his practice as a family physician. He died in his sleep in his mid-80s during the lockdowns, and my wife and I are still trying to find a family doctor with a private practice. We have found some very good doctors, but they are all affiliated with corporate-run hospitals, and you can feel that your visit is being timed. Everything is on the clock, so you are ushered in and out. It is so impersonal!
During my annual physical, our old doctor would spend a few minutes chatting after he took a series of tests. I once asked him why he did that, and he said it was to observe my eyes, my mental clarity and a host of other things that were visible just by observing. Oh, to have a doctor like that back again!
We see this impersonal approach to “customer service” everywhere. How many businesses can you call on the phone and a real person answers it? There are very few, and they are confined mostly to small businesses.
No doubt the new technology has made things more efficient in the long run, but individual people live day to day, not in the long run, and I am concerned that this lack of individual attention is driving me crazy. Am I the only one who has noticed the change?
— Too Impersonal
Dear Too Impersonal: Yours is one of many letters I have received on this topic. I am printing it because you give some good examples of frustrations that we are all coping with in 2022. I am younger than you, but I do sense that you are right — that companies used to place a greater emphasis on interacting with their customers. I would be curious to see any feedback from other readers or from executives at large companies who believe that bigger is better, even if it makes the customer feel smaller.
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