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It was not that long ago I conducted seminars on how to handle difficult customers, and address customer complaints to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions.

It seems that customer service has evolved such that after listening to a customer’s complaint, it is to be categorized into ”we can’t do that," "we won’t do that," or "you need to talk to someone else."

I believe good customer service is simply a thing of the past.

Customer Service: A Thing of the Past?

It doesn’t seem that long ago, even though it has truly been a couple of decades, that I stood in front of audiences explaining that one of the best sources for additional business was in resolving customer complaints to their satisfaction. Customer complaints are often resolved by cross-selling a supplementary product or service, or by upgrading to a superior product or service. At the very least, a customer who is satisfied with the resolution to a complaint will likely serve as free advertising to friends, relatives, and co-workers who complain about substandard products or services with a competitor.

I would explain how to use active listening to determine the real complaint, and then we would practice active listening skills. I would tell the audience how to identify a potential implied warranty situation so that a minor complaint would not turn into a lawsuit. I would even talk about the proper way to turn the customer over to a co-worker who would be implementing the solution with a summary of the problem and agreed solution to eliminate the need for the customer to rehash the complaint.

I put these seminars together after studying customer service for several years, and I modified mine to include things I learned in books like How to Win Friends and Influence People. I learned active listening by taking communications courses, and studying materials related to effective communications. I stood in front of the audiences with confidence gained from taking public speaking courses in school, and through several years in Toastmasters.

My thoughts now are it was all a waste of time.

Business is less likely to be conducted face-to-face these days, and, even when there is human interaction, it seems that we are talking to someone named John in St. Louis who has a heavy Indian accent, and who has no authority to resolve problems. John’s job, it seems, is to determine whether "he can’t resolve the problem," "he won’t resolve the problem," or "it is someone else’s problem to resolve."

There isn’t really an attempt to determine the real problem, there is no concern even if the problem violates express warranty, and a transfer to someone else is a fresh start at explaining the problem to someone who likely will also be determining whether it is a problem they can’t or won’t resolve, with an outside possibility that there will be another transfer with the hope of frustrating the consumer to the point of simply giving up.

It used to be that you had to get a job with the government to treat people so badly and retain employment.

The signs were there that this day was coming. Along with those seminars, I also remember sitting in meetings in which the quality of products and services took a back seat to the marketing plan, and in which numbers were crunched to show anticipated growth and losses with little to no regard that those numbers represented people.

It was naive of me to think success and superiority would go to the deserving rather than to those who put their money into advertising instead of product development and customer satisfaction.

I suppose I should look at the bright side. I could develop a seminar for John and his colleagues in St. Louis. I could get around the need for a passport to get to "St. Louis" by doing the seminar on digital broadcast via YouTube.

What is sad, though, is it would be more profitable to advertise an app that I won’t develop, market it as the solution to virtually every problem you can possibly think of, and hire John and his colleagues to wear out anybody who complains about the ninety-nine cents they spent on it.

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