Is Customer Service Getting Worse, or Are We Just Too Self-Absorbed?

Posted by: Jena McGregor on March 3, 2008

Maybe the reason customer service feels like it’s getting worse is that we’re all just a little too focused on ourselves. Or so says a Washington Post article from yesterday that looks at the increasing narcissism and entitlement among people that’s contributing to, among other things, the frequent feeling that service, well, sucks. “In real life, we want what we want and we want it now,” writes staff writer Dan Zak. “No delay. No aggravation. No hassle, pain-free, our way, right away. We’re a highly technical society in a land of plenty.”

Zak makes a point that wasn’t underscored enough in my recent story on customer service. I think there’s little question that customer expectations are rising. We get instant gratification when we buy things online, when we send email from our Blackberries, when we speak with customer service agents in an online chat room. In this sped-up world, having to wait for anything takes on new meaning.

Particularly susceptible to the kind of entitlement that Zak writes about is Generation Y. Zak quotes Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at the University of San Diego, whose research shows that a sense of entitlement has increased steadily among college students since 1979. You can read intergenerational management author Tammy Erickson’s take on Twenge’s research here. My favorite comment from a reader of Erickson’s column so far? “[I’d] just like to point out that the Gen Ys are the kids of the original ‘Me Generation,’ the Boomers.”

Reader Comments

Bruce Temkin

March 4, 2008 9:37 AM

The overall level of customer service is getting better -- in an absolute sense. Technology has made self-service a reality in many cases and phone reps have more immediate access to information than ever before. But, at the same time, consumer expectations are rising. Sometimes the expectations outpace the improvements; especially for companies that are not aggressively improving. In my blog (http://experiencematters.wordpress.com/), I’ve just posted about the 6 gaps that can cause service experiences to fall short of customer expectations.

I’ve also been doing a lot of research on Gen Y. They are different than older consumers, in different ways than other generations were at that age. In my post called “Designing Experiences For Gen Y,” I describe three key characteristics of Gen Y: 1) Socially Fluid And Highly Networked; 2) Emotionally Searching For Their Identities; and 3) Mentally Fickle And Creative. When it comes to customer service, Gen Y needs the same thing that every generation needs -- ACES:

> Accountability (take responsibility for fixing the problem)
> Communication (proactively tell them what they need/want to know)
> Empathy (let them know you care)
> Solution (nothing’s better than getting a quick resolution)

Thomas H

March 6, 2008 2:48 PM

In my opinion, the reason why we still complain is not that we are more narcissistic but rather there are so many great places that we cannot put up with poorly run ones. A recent trip to a well-known art museum in Atlanta (which will remain nameless) demonstrated to me what a poorly run place it is (and snobby, too) compared to another art museum in Cleveland, Ohio, for example. To add further contrast, the Cleveland museum had three times the exhibits, higher quality pieces, and was free (voluntary donation)!

random

March 7, 2008 10:06 AM

Actually, it's both. From what I've seen professionally, people who render service are flooded with ever more work and get ever-shifting priority lists from their managers. That is if they're not simply outsourced to poorly trained workers who work on a different continent, in a different culture and are rarely, if ever, given the proper briefing on what they'll be supporting. As you can imagine, service quality does go down when such steps are taken.

On the other hand, just as you've pointed out, we live in a world where we're accustomed to instant gratification so when we have a complex problem, we get in a huff and demand that it's solved now and forever although that's just impossible. Then we go onto customer service review sites and complain about how awful the service person was and how they were totally incompetent and blah, blah, blah.

Mark Salinas

April 29, 2008 11:03 AM

I think customer service is improving especially with Technology. Remote capabilities along with more advances in communication amongst other countries is only part of the equation. Obviously there is a human element that needs to be included to have superior customer service. The level of customer service should only get better going forward as the processes are "tweaked".

Mark Salinas
Viscom Technology Group Inc., MN

Kamal Kumar

June 16, 2008 5:03 AM

As we are seeing that most business as well as marketing strategies is dependent upon the Customer Satisfaction . We are prevailing through the competive era where customer satisfaction is having its importance. As it is really worst service because no body is knowing
about the queries of the customer that what is and agent of customer service is in a such a situation that they will have to give reply to thier queris in a happy mood . As one bad reply to the customer queris can give bad for the companis business development .

Vin Subrajmanan

June 30, 2008 4:16 PM

For my business, our marketing strategy revolves around customer service. It's what got the business going in the first place and its the reason we've stayed afloat. I do agree that we as a society are becoming more demanding, but I can say I believe a number of places that do nothing for customer service has increased dramatically. I recently found an interesting company that focuses on this. Its called MindShare, or go to mshare.net if you want to check it out.

Shell Smith

July 8, 2008 12:27 PM

That is really interesting. I agree to a point - me being part of that generation Y. However, I think that we view customer service based on past experiences. If one company is doing it great - why can't another? You did raise some interesting points. I also looked up the link from "Vin" - posted above (mshare.net) and took a pretty interesting survey about service. Anyway, thanks for posting those articles.

Adam Freeman

March 4, 2009 1:47 PM

Well I do not think I am demanding at all. Although when I get demanding is when a product does not work and they just flat out refuse to fix it. I don't think I am being selfish expecting what I paid for to work. It does not even have to be fixed right away so long as it is fixed without cost to me. Some companies fix issues others just basically tell you they are not going to help.

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