Customer service on the ground usually involves human beings, and human beings are not perfect. While we are justifiably upset when we are confronted with surly agents or less-than-helpful sales people, there often will be factors, perhaps beyond their control, that have contributed to their attitude at the time we encounter them. Aware that we too have moments of less-than-kind behaviour toward others, we can and probably should forgive them.
However, when it is a particularly egregious or systemic failure, due to lack of proper training or adequate supervision, for example, or—far worse—the deliberate policy of a company’s customer service that results in our discomfort, inconvenience, or loss of value for dollars spent, we do not have to—indeed we should not—accept such failure or such a policy and thereby allow the company to forget or to ignore the fact that it is we the customers who keep that company in business, keep its employees in jobs, and keep shareholders in healthy dividends and other investment returns.
I would be dishonest if I claimed that I do not care about the level of compensation I receive for abysmal customer service, but I would willingly give up all compensation in return for the believable assurance from the company that it cared enough about me as a customer, and about customer service generally, to implement, maintain, and monitor the effectiveness of a long-term policy which will result in allowing me—and everyone else who patronizes the organization—to confidently expect to be treated with the respect, courtesy, and care due a customer regardless of the amount of money I have spent or might spend.
But no company that fails to provide a consistently satisfactory level of customer service is going to change if it is not in its financial interest to do so. Corporations that rely on the consumer for their bread and butter are also aware that they have, over a period of sixty years or more, trained us to become insatiably materialistic. As long as we covet the products or services they offer, we will allow them to have their way with us; greed trumps human dignity in a consumer society.
We might say, then, that there is in fact a kind of unspoken compact between corporations and consumers: we love the goods and services that companies offer, so we put up with generally low levels of service and often substandard product quality. But it is not the aim of large companies simply to maintain existing profits; the impetus is always toward increasing them; after all, shareholders are greedy too. This drive to squeeze more and more out of the market is not a campaign without collateral damage, it seems to me, because it necessarily involves raising prices and cutting costs, impacting the ordinary individual through both downward pressure on wages and on employment in general (one of the most common complaints in the yelp reviews of the department store cited above was the difficulty customers had in finding someone in the store to assist them) and reductions in customer service, either policy-driven or as a result of under-staffing.
So we have become, in a sense, enslaved to the corporations because of the lust they have awakened in us for the products they put on the market. How many of us still use the iPods we paid premium dollars for just a few years ago? Or the iPod docking stations? Do we really believe that the technology for the iPhone that is the newest object of our desire did not exist prior to the release of the iPod? Is the technology of the iPhone 5 really brand new? If we already have a smart phone that allows us to make calls, send and receive text messages and e-mails, surf the Internet, and take photos, why do we want to stand in line for hours, even days, to purchase the latest version? And let’s take a look at our cell phone bills over the past couple of years and notice how much they have increased and then ponder whether the increases are coincidental.
In the yelp reviews of the department store mentioned above the positive comments were almost exclusively about the availability of lines of desirable products in the store; the reviewers did not appear to care about the difficulty of obtaining assistance or the surly attitude of sales staff. It is no wonder, then, that the incident that I found so shocking could have taken place.
We have made the Apple Corporation the richest company on earth. One wonders if the workers in the plants that manufacture Apple products or the employees in the Apple stores that sell them or the consumers all over the world who purchase these products, often going deeper into debt to do so, have been invited to share in the obscene wealth of the corporation.
It is time to give our heads a bit of a shake and recognize our complicity in what is happening in the world: the growing gap between the small number of people with great wealth and the so-called 99 percent, the general decline in quality and service, increasing personal debt, not to mention the environmental damage that has been caused by our blind rush to possess the latest of everything.