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Tight labor market a factor

What’s bad customer service costing you?

A few Friday nights ago, after a pizza was delivered three hours after the order was taken, one Ridgeland resident fought back. Or tried to. After three attempts to speak with management by phone or in person, she gave up. Customer service no longer seems important, she complained to her neighbors who readily agreed and told similar tales.

“When labor markets are very tight, like they are right now, I would bet most service-providing businesses don’t lose anything from bad service because customers really don’t have much of an alternative,” said Bob Neal, state economist.

Even though the Better Business Bureau doesn’t keep records of bad service, calls pour in from people who want to complain, said Harold Palmer, president of the Better Business Bureau in Jackson.

“If someone pays for a specific service, like air conditioning that doesn’t work after repairs have been made, then we can go back and do something. Rude service, a lack of caring, there’s not a lot we can do about it,” Palmer said.

Good old supply and demand. That’s all it amounts to, Palmer said.

“With a lower unemployment rate, employers can’t be as selective with applicants as they’d like to be,” Palmer said. “And employees, particularly entry-level workers, know this. There’s an attitude of ‘if I’m late for work, big deal, I can go somewhere else.’ It’s hard to find people who care.”

Hospitality is often not taught at home. As a result, some entry-level workers don’t have a clue about providing good customer service, said John Dennery, owner of Dennery’s Restaurant in Jackson.

“Years ago, guests were traditionally honored in the home,” he said. “Today, our society might view guests as an inconvenience. This perception has a lot to do with our younger generation’s take on hospitality and how to take care of people.”

When this happens, training at the workplace starts at square one, Dennery said.

“To them, employers are asking too much,” he said. “They think, ‘I should get the tip no matter what I do. Pay me and let me go home.’ That’s the wrong thinking. It’s a result of the me-first generation. As a society, we should be working on trying to correct the situation and realize we’re all in this together and that we need to be better servants to our fellow man, whether we’re in the shoe business or the paging business. In Mississippi, we pride ourselves on hospitality. I would hope we don’t sell ourselves short.”

But what is the high cost of bad service to business owners?

“There are fast food places that I refuse to return to,” said Palmer. “When the labor market changes, people won’t forget about bad service.”

Several years ago, mystery shoppers were recruited to shop certain businesses and to grade them according to a specific list of questions. The businesses usually consisted of stores in a national chain, like Pier One Imports, where shoppers were asked to use a stopwatch to determine the length of time before they were acknowledged as customers, or local stores in a regional chain, such as Deposit Guaranty National Bank before it was sold. Very few mystery shoppers are solicited these days.

“In becoming a more casual society, we gave up personal attention,” said Dennery. “Department stores used to provide customer service. Then we became accustomed to shopping at Wal-Marts and K-Marts where we got it off the racks ourselves and didn’t get attention. As a young boy, I remember a hoard of young people would surround the car, check tires, air, and windshield washer fluids at gas stations when all you were doing was getting gas. There was no extra charge, it was part of the price. Because labor prices went up and the economy is driven by competition for the dollar, there was a lot of brouhaha about self-service. In fact, there was a state statute or city ordinance passed to allow for self-service.”

An upswing to today’s service society, exceptionally good service gives businesses a heads-up on the competition.

“You can see the surprised looks on faces when people get good service,” said Dennery.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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