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Our View: Good customer service is literally remarkable

The good kind is literally remarkable

It’s been in a steady decline since the 1990s. It could be facing extinction. In fact, it may already be too late to save it.

We’re talking about good customer service, the kind that’s lauded in a current TV commercial for an auto insurance company, in which a whole passel of people show up (in costume, no less) for a new customer who’s just backed his car into a driveway basketball hoop.

Yeah, it’s only a commercial.

Most of us don’t think too hard about customer service when we’re buying something. If the item we’re buying is expensive enough – say, a vehicle – we assume we’re going to get decent customer service. If the item we’re buying is cheap, we likely don’t concern ourselves; if it doesn’t deliver, we’ll just go find one that works better.

But when it comes to services, we’re often at the mercy of the companies to which we’re tied: There’s usually just one electric, gas or water provider around, and if we’ve bought our $700 phone from a telecom, we’re likely stuck with it until we pay it off.

And so it is that when great customer service happens, it’s literally remarkable.

One of us was shopping at Brown’s Shoe Fit in downtown Durango recently. We’ve gotten so accustomed to grumpy retail workers that the friendly people at Brown’s seemed – well, almost like aliens. We were uncertain about our potential purchase, and instead of pushing it, our salesperson said, “Well, if you don’t really love them, you probably shouldn’t buy them.” Really? A gentle suggestion was made that we check out the sister store across the street while we considered our purchase. Across the street, the salesperson was equally helpful.

In the end, we bought something at both stores.

This is the way great customer service works.

Alas, when we have to do business online or by phone, the experience is not always so pleasant.

In an attempt to save labor costs, corporations have automated most of their online and phone services. We are encouraged to have “live” chats or robotic chats (which can be equally ineffectual) and to peruse endless FAQs for the answers to our questions (has anyone ever found an answer in those lists?). We are given menus of choices that don’t include anything remotely resembling our request or problem.

We are told inane things on recordings, like the frequent imperative, “If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911” by medical providers’ office lines, and the unnerving, “Approval is not a guarantee of payment” from insurance companies.

Everyone has experienced the special hell of waiting interminably on hold while advertisements exhort the listener to buy more, bigger, better – and to go to the company’s website for faster service.

Listen, folks. If we could get help on the website, we would gladly do so. Some problems can only be solved by a human being.

These systems seem to be designed by people who have no respect for the customers they are supposed to be serving and haven’t bothered to beta-test their systems.

And yet there remain a few companies that have managed to continue offering great online and telephone customer service and retailers of the ilk of our local Brown Shoe Fit.

We vote with our money and our words. Let companies that exhibit really bad customer service know by giving them thumbs-down on review sites. Reward good customer service similarly; write very specific positive reviews.

Does it make any difference? Who knows? But it sure feels good.

And it’s the perfect pastime while we wait on herd immunity.

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