Customer Service Weak

Did you notice that last week was Customer Service week, everywhere on the planet?

The Internet says Customer Service Week is celebrated annually during the first full week in October when customer-oriented organisations around the world recognise the importance of service excellence. Well, that is a noble intention and it’s been going since 1984. In 1992 the US Congress even wrote it into law as a National Event in 1992.

I wonder whether you found being a customer a more uplifting experience during the Customer Service Week? Or whether, like me, you experienced mixed reactions. Some companies (and most banks) were clearly just going through the motions. Happy to clog our inboxes and messaging apps with platitudinous salutations. Dull, duller, dullest.

There are two reasons why such activity is counter-productive; both rooted in the science of communication. The first is all about relevance. Communication is not about what you transmit; it’s about what people receive. That depends on their mood, their environment and other distractions. If your message contains nothing of relevance, it’s simply not going to overcome these barriers.

The second is all about the medium you use. Last century, someone very sharp coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ He was a University of Toronto Professor called Marshall McLuhan, and his work helped to shape our understanding of how media work.

McLuhan suggested that the medium, the channel you use, has an impact on the message that influences the way it is perceived. As simple demonstration of this, a message shouted through a police bullhorn carries a harsh authority that causes anxiety in the minds of most recipients.

So customer service messages on email (a highly stressful medium for most folk) are unlikely to be positively received. Nor are SMS or Whatsapp great channels for your bank to use carelessly, because these are social channels and commercial messages strike a dissonant chord. Especially if the very next day your bank uses the same medium to tell you that they are now passing on additional excise duty on transaction charges. Dumb, dumber, dumbest.

On the upside, two initiatives from clients of mine raised genuine smiles. Chloride Exide, the regional battery giant, had all their male managers dress as ladies in visible support of womens’ health and, in particular, Breast Cancer. A nice, quirky way to express their humanity that certainly caught the attention of social media.

While at DPO, Africa’s largest online payments business, someone came up to me, thanked me for my custom, smiled and gave me a tiny parcel of sweets. So, of course, I said, ‘You’re very welcome.’


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