Recessionary Customer Service Expectations

by Kevin on February 20, 2009

The economic bad news just keeps on coming. The government is trying to borrow its way out of the problem (sounds like the personal finance ideas of some people I know!), and the stock market continues the death march down the drain.

We’re in a recession.

But I think you knew that.

That having been said should you and I as potential customers expect better customer service from businesses we interact with? Should they be going above and beyond what is normally expected?

For me the answer is without a doubt, yes.

Yes, we are in a recession.

Yes, you could potentially lose every customer that walks through the doors of your business.

Yes, you should do everything you can to keep them — they may be the ones to keep your business afloat this month.

…so why am I not seeing this with the stores I interact with?

A Long Wait at Verizon Wireless

I recently wrote that I had made the decision to upgrade to a BlackBerry. We’ve got our phones now and everything is peachy, but I never told the story of what happened one week ago today.

I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to buy the phone in person or over the phone with customer service. On the surface it would seem to make the most sense to just buy it in person and be done.

However, we had to make some very complicated changes to our account. We needed to assume the liability of my Mom’s plan, convert her line to a $9.99 added line on our plan, convert our plan to the “secret” 550 minute loyalty plan, upgrade two phones, switch the numbers the phones were associated with, add BlackBerry service, and add two basic texting plans.

Sounds like a lot? It was.

Yet we trecked down to the store in hopes of being able to knock it out in one night and not having to worry about it. We had been to the store previously and been snagged by one of the salespeople — we were “hers”. We got in around 7:20 and I was told it would be about 10 minutes before she could help me. Apparently because she had dealt with me before she gets to help me so she can get the commission. That’s fine, except when you don’t take care of the customer.

My wife left to do some other shopping, leaving me stranded at the store without transportation. I wasn’t too upset because I got to play with the phone I was about to purchase for quite some time to get used to it.

Ten minutes turned into 45 minutes. The store closed at 8pm, and they locked the doors so no one else would come in. My wife had made it back by this time and was waiting inside with me. The sales lady finally approaches us, full of dollar signs in her eyes. I tell her we want to upgrade only one phone (as my Mom had used her upgrade for the other phone), and I wanted to switch to the 550 minute loyalty plan.

Blank stare.

She had no idea what I was talking about, and neither did her manager. “But you can still buy the phone!” I told her I wasn’t buying the phone until I knew I could change my plan. She apologized and said she couldn’t help me. We left and literally three minutes after we left and were driving down the road she called me on my cell phone and said “Oh! We found what you were talking about and you can come buy the phone now.”

Uh, I don’t think so.

Whether the store tried to take advantage of me by claiming ignorance of this plan, or if they really were ignorant of the plan, that’s crazy. Know your product.

I ended up calling customer service, the guy on the phone laughed with me at the store, and took care of me. We got the phones on Wednesday and I spent 45 minutes on the phone with customer service getting all of the phones activated and switched over. That customer service experience was so good that I asked to speak to the representative’s manager and let him know how great she had been. The phone reps gave the customer what the customer wanted. Customer is satisfied.

Step Your Game Up

I think all businesses should make their employees aware. Be extra nice. Bend a little bit more. Have more patience. Consumers are realizing what thrift and frugality really means and your services may be next on their list of things to either cancel or get a better deal on.

Employees may not want to go above and beyond. They may be depressed about the economy. But the consumer doesn’t care about it. Put on that fake smile and serve the customer. It’s such a simple concept.

Has anyone out there noticed significantly better customer service recently? Do you think it is because of the economy?


Sylvia February 20, 2009 at 9:12 am

Yes! I had a really bad experience at a Kroger store back in December. I had a coupon for a $1 off a product that was on sale for $1. I was told by the cashier and the store manager that I couldn’t use it because that would make it Free! I said that was the whole point!! Anyway, after a rather rude conversation with both, I collected my coupons, and asked them to cancel my order. I later followed up with a call to their Customer Service. Ironically, I get a call from the store manager yesterday (nearly 9 weeks later) and he apologized, said he was wrong, and asked me to come see him the next time I came to the store and he would give me something for my trouble. I was blown away!!!!

Ashley @ Wide Open Wallet February 20, 2009 at 10:09 am

That’s funny… I just wrote a post about improved customer service the other day. I guess it’s really catching on.

Companies are all “hey… if we don’t have customers we will go out of business!” What a revelation!

K.S. Katz @ Consolidated Credit Counseling February 20, 2009 at 11:14 am

It depends on the company. Some companies are cutting back on their staff to reduce costs. Because there is less staff to service customers, the quality of customer service goes down. Customers have to wait in longer lines or stay on the phone longer to get helped. And in the end, these companies end up alienating their customers.

Should companies be stepping up and offering better customer service in these difficult times? Absolutely. Just like you, I’ve noticed a few companies that are going above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy. These companies will definitely keep my business.

As consumers, we can send a message loud and clear that price isn’t the end all, be all of a company/customer relationship. We demand to be treated with courtesy and respect.

B7 February 20, 2009 at 11:14 am

Did you know the half of the people on this earth have never made a phone call?


I think they have Verizon too…

Personal Finance Firewall February 21, 2009 at 10:08 am

I have to say that I have not noticed any significant change in the way companies do business currently. I even called a few companies and tried to negotiate something with them, telling them I planned to switch to a different company if they could not fulfill my need and they pretty much said, “go ahead” so I did. I think you are right in thinking that companies need to be more flexible if they want to keep their business alive.
I also speculate that some people are taking advantage of the recession a bit too much, such as haggling for price drops in retail locations. I could never do this. Getting a lower interest rate or cheaper service such as internet is a bit different because its a long term thing but a retail price is a one time buy and if I want a better price I go someplace else or look online. If the company is hurting enough, they will drop the price and attract more people, if they arent, chances are they wont haggle with you anyways.

Kevin February 21, 2009 at 11:52 pm

@Sylvia: Were you blown away because he offered to make it right, or because it took that long to be resolved?

@Ashley: Shocking to some companies. Wait, we have customers?

@KS: Exactly. The staff that remains gets the workload of the rest, all in the name of upper executives keeping their full salaries. Hey guys, why not cut a million bucks out of your salary so we can keep some of those laid off workers? It will work in your benefit in the long run because the company will grow, your stock options will be worth more, etc…

@B7: I’m not sure what the point of your comment is.

@Personal Finance Firewall: Wow I can’t imagine subscription based companies (cable, for example) telling you to go ahead and walk. Very odd.

Sylvia February 22, 2009 at 11:51 am

Both! I guess I am so used to getting bad service at that store that I had just written it off. It’s amazing that it took nearly 2 months to resolve a $1 issue, but at least they tried to make it right. However, since that episode I’ve had my own personal boycott and refuse to shop there even though it is right around the corner from my house. Ironically, my coupon was for a bag of lifesavers candy…now I feel like Kroger is the one in need of a lifesaver!!

B7 February 22, 2009 at 2:27 pm


That was a joke…I guess it didn’t work!

Seriously, though. As the economy grew for the last 10 years, every business has found it harder and harder to keep good employees, especially in customer service where wages are low. Why?

As the economy flourished, anyone who has any skills at all, or the desire to learn soon found a higher paying job doing something better. This left the most clueless and apathetic people to fill those low paying jobs.

The good news is that the exact reverse is happening now. If the economy continues to contract over the next year, skilled and effective people will fill customer service positions and our buying experience will improve.

Kevin February 22, 2009 at 3:58 pm

@B7: that sounds all well and good except now all of those apathetic and clueless people… who still spend money… could be unemployed. Bad for the economy. What’s the “happy medium”?

Ashley @ Wide Open Wallet February 22, 2009 at 5:26 pm

B7: I got your joke, and thought it was funny. lol.

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