The Ghetto of the Workplace

Ever stop to wonder why so many companies have such poor customer service? Emily Yellin knows Loyalty3 why.

Ms. Yellin is the author of 'Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us'. It's a riveting read of all that's wrong with customer service.

She calls customer service the “ghetto of the workplace,” a twilight zone in which people are overworked, underpaid and stressed to the max. 

In her book, Ms. Yellin explains why so many organizations see customer service as a necessary evil and why so few treat it as a strategic competitive advantage. She was also nice enough to discuss the subject on a recent PepperTown Hall podcast

Yes, says Ms. Yellin, there ARE a few enlightened companies that actually stress quality over quantity and believe that customer service is the new PR. Zappos is one example. CEO Tony Hsieh made the decision to move his strategic, front-office executives to Las Vegas so they could be housed right alongside their call center peers. Why? Because Hsieh believes the phone is his “…best branding device.” Zappos receives 2 million calls a year, so the better the user experience, the more repeat customers it will have. It seems so simple. So, why do so many of us still have horrific user experiences?

Ms. Yellin says poor customer service is the direct result of an indifferent management mindset. Most companies, she says, marginalize customer service in their corporate hierarchy. They'll spend millions on branding, but a mere pittance on competent, quality-focused customer care. Is it any wonder then why there are so many loutish, insensitive CSRs?

Ms. Yellin asks how our lives would change if, say, the head of customer service at an airline or cable company was the second highest paid officer. Or, if being a customer service agent were a well-paid, coveted career position that led to office management. So far, only a few brave companies have taken those steps. But, she says, they've thrived as a result.

I'm all about improving Peppercom's customer service. We've already conducted a 'customer journey' that examined 20 separate communication touch points potential customers and other key audiences have with us. We fared well in many but fell short in others. Recognizing that customer service is, indeed, the new PR, we're making quick upgrades, though. And, we're forcing ourselves to experience Peppercom the way a prospective client or employee would.

Oh, and one more thing. I'm going to walk the talk when it comes to better understanding the experience of our most crucial customer service employees as well. I'll be sitting at the reception desk all day tomorrow. Trust me, your call WILL BE important to me.

10 thoughts on “The Ghetto of the Workplace

  1. Thanks Biffo. I wonder if DirecTV incentivizes superior customer service reps such as your second example or, as Ghost suggests, pays everyone minimum wage? If it’s the latter, I wonder what motivated him or her to rise to the occasion?

  2. Great point, Julie. It really comes down to the old aphorism: an organization is only as strong as its weakest link.’ That’s why I think it’s so important for a company to align its marketing messages with the user experience. Don’t tell me you’re ‘all about me’ when you don’t know the first thing about me and your call center people cop a ‘tude on the phone. Most CEOs won’t wake up to the need to treat customer care as a strategic advantage until a competitor beats them to the punch.

  3. You sure did, Ghost. That’s a great point. I’m going to forward your comment to Emily Yellin and ask her to respond.

  4. I’ve had good experiences with DirecTV — they seem both knowledgeable and conversant. Netflix, on those rare occasions when you speak with a human, has been outstanding.
    But here’s the thing: Will we necessarily pay more for good customer service and, in turn, provide these companies with the incentive to provide it?
    Once upon a time in a land far, far away, before the advent of off-shoring, Citibank hired only college grads to man its customer service lines for credit card issues. It truly was the Cadillac of the credit card business. I don’t know if they still offer this level of customer service because — wait for it — they raised their rates and I went elsewhere. Based on my impeccable credit record, their competition offered me a better deal; by moving to the competition, didn’t I effectively tell Citibank that I wouldn’t pay more for better customer service?

  5. It’s hard to believe how short-sighted these big corporations are. Without customers, they have no business. Period.
    I also agree that customer service is hit-or-miss, especially with the big cable companies like Time Warner Cable. I have had indifferent and downright hostile CS reps and friendly, helpful and informed reps, depending on who answered the phone when I called.
    Regarding small businesses – sometimes they are just as shortsighted as the big corporations. Read my review of Gothic Cabinet Craft on Yelp for a perfect example of how a loyal customer (me) was thrown away without a second thought:

  6. I had a problem with DirecTV, was being transferred by customer service to another area to get help. Believe me customer service was pleased to be rid of me. Of course they cut me off and I called back and got a new customer service rep.She asked me what the problem was , she sorted out that problem and saved me some money.
    Long story short some people in customer service are not very good at what they do and some are.

  7. Arguably, Sprint and Comcast were not providing customer service that was commensurate with the competition.
    It takes a lot to put your money where your mouth is; as such, what we tend to see is price being a more determinant factor than the service experience itself. Look at gas stations, for example. I know that blessed state of yours precludes civilians from pumping their own gas, but, in most parts of the country, you can’t even pay a premium to have someone pump your gas for you — which is a drag when the weather is bad or you’re dressed in a suit or you’re just living large in general. It tells me that consumers tend to be more focused on cost than service.
    I have to think that if consumers were willing to pay more for better service, they’d receive it. But, ultimately, you get what you accept.

  8. I’m with you right up until your final point, Ghost. Companies will pony up more for customer service when one of two things occur: customers begin leaving in droves (think: Sprint) or the reputation damage is so severe they have no other choice but to invest(think: Comcast.)

  9. One of the things you take for granted in New York is how often you’re dealing with the owner of a business — like, say, in a Mom-and-Pop pizzeria or deli. The owner is personally invested (literally) in your satisfaction, since repeat business is his lifeblood.
    When you get to other parts of the country, you never deal with the owner; rather, you deal with $8-per-hour employees who get paid the same, regardless of your satisfaction. Hence, there’s no motivation for them to ensure your happiness or continued patronage. They get paid the same, whether you come back or not.
    With bigger companies, particularly those that are publicly traded, it’s hard to make a convincing argument why they should spend more on customer service, especially if their current levels are commensurate with the competition. At the end of the day, their loyalty is to their stockholders — for whom they want to turn the largest profit possible — not their customers.