COLUMN: Customer service blunders are a trend that needs to be reversed


Dan Hahn

Dan Hahn is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 217-581-2812.

Dan Hahn, Columnist

Imagine you are in a job interview and are asked: “can you describe a time when you were given excellent customer service?”

I have a tenuous relationship with purchasing goods and services thanks to a recent streak of what I hope is bad luck and not indicative a widespread trend.

Alas, it seems big box stores and mega retailers like Amazon and Walmart are setting the standard by providing simply adequate customer service.

When did I last receive excellent customer service? I reject the premise of the question!

I have not had a good customer service experience in a long time: fumbled orders at restaurants, unresponsiveness to phone calls and emails, slow service, apathetic staff — I have seen it all continually and recently. 

Workers surely have many choices for employment, and it shows. We see help-wanted signs everywhere with attractive starting pay. Small stores are reducing their hours due to staffing issues. 

The phenomenon of “quiet quitting” became a trendy term to describe employee sentiment in the labor market post pandemic.

For those unfamiliar, quiet quitting means that an employee will do the bare minimum that their job requires, never going above and beyond their assigned duties.

Because why would you? It is not as if anyone is going to get fired in this labor market.

The unemployment rate is at a 50-year low. In fact, there are two jobs for every unemployed person! I contend that the abundance of job openings creates customer service blunders at an alarming scale.

What else can explain the epidemic of poor customer service I am seeing?

For what it is worth, I can sympathize with people who care little about doing a good job. I have worked full time hours for minimum wage and it was a dismal, soul crushing experience.

Market forces aside, embedded in the attitude that a customer facing position need not require a friendly and responsive disposition, is simply a self-centered notion of entitlement.

People feel justified in their apathy, giving a customer a poor experience simply because they do not feel like it, or perhaps they feel entitled to something better.

In fact, I agree that workers are entitled to better working conditions and a quality work-life balance.

Unfortunately, people fail to see that their reputation and the brand they represent is on the line. To me, this is a big part of the problem. A tarnished reputation does not mean as much as it used to.

People need goods and services more than ever, and both employers and workers have taken notice.

Part of taking on a job, besides money, is to develop competency, confidence, and a reputation. Businesses traverse a similar path.

They must have a product that people want and develop a level of trust with their customers. This is the path to becoming successful in a capitalist market.

Individuals need to build their own brand as well be motivated to do good work for its own sake, to be satisfied with that work even if no one notices, regardless of how much money is earned.

In other words, having a job to do is supposed to give you a sense of purpose. If you are a worker and have felt stepped on or taken advantage of, then there is no sense in taking it out on the customer (or the business for that matter).

Instead, it is time to switch jobs gracefully and professionally. Individuals must remember that their reputation is on the line.

Ideally, and I realize we do not live in an ideal world, but ideally folks should cherish the opportunity to impress upon their customers all the benefits and joys of a positive work ethic. 

On the other hand, businesses can do more to incentivize customer-centric behavior by giving more bonuses, higher wages, and better benefits.

Overall, the government, both local and federal, also needs to value workers more and provide benefits that keep good workers working and small businesses competitive: simple things like more paid time off, child-care incentives, and flexible work schedules.

In the end, consumers can complain about their poor experience until they are red in the face, but there is something systemic about the labor problem we have.

It is not a matter of unemployment rates being so low, it is a matter of businesses being staffed by resentful employees who feel they are entitled to more, and are struggling to both provide excellence while on the job and get by reasonably free from stress in their own lives.

Dan Hahn is an English composition/rhetoric graduate student. He can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.