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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

The Death of Customer Service

For readers of my blog who have been with me for a while, you'll be well aware of some of the woes I've had with regards to travel. Delayed passport, cancelled flights; that kind of thing! However, recently my bad luck has branched out from travel to other industries and it's got me wondering whether customer service is on the slide, and why that might be - or if it's just my luck!

In the last month I've taken four separate round trip flights with Easyjet. On every single one of those, at least one of the flights has been delayed in leaving. the shortest delay has been 25 mins; the longest has been two hours. When I was sitting in Luton airport the other week, 15 of the 25 flights showing on the screen at that time were delayed! What makes it worse, is that nobody at Easyjet gives a shit. The flights are cheap and the next best reputable provider is significantly more expensive, which makes a big difference in costing work or personal travel plans. And even if you do choose a more long-established, prestigious carrier to travel with, you're not guaranteed a better service.

When I travelled home from Copenhagen to Edinburgh with KLM at the end of May, my first flight (Copenhagen>Amsterdam) was delayed so significantly that I missed the connection and had to stay in a hotel overnight. That meant frustration and missing out on a personal engagement, but it also meant incurring costs which, six weeks later, have still not been returned to me. The first time I logged the case for a refund they said it hadn't logged correctly and made me do it again. The second time it logged successfully, but now, when I log in to check on the status of the claim, there is CLEARLY a problem with it. You see, the case notes in the system claim that I flew from Calgary and that the case has been closed and I've been given a sum of money for my troubles. Thats a problem since I've never been to Calgary andI absolutely have not been compensated! The account details of the person who has received those funds do not belong to me, so my case is evidently being confused with another! When I contact KLM, they tell me that they can't give me any more information as the customer care team will be in touch, but the customer care team have NEVER been in touch - not even initially to confirm that the case had been successfully logged - and (unsurprisingly given the fact that all of the other details seem to relate to a different case) I finally managed last night to get their WhatsApp team to admit to me that the email address that they hold on file for me in relation to the case, is completely wrong! So I'd have waited forever for this imaginary contact from the customer contact team! Each time I feel I'm getting somewhere, they tell me they'll go to investigate it further and get back to me and they never have!

With my wife and daughter away on holiday with the in laws this week, I had a long list of chores I wanted to get done (that's not strictly true - it was largely a list of chores my wife wanted me to get done!) Along with some home and garden activities, there was also the matter of sending a couple of parcels; one returning a pair of shorts to a retailer and one sending a bass guitar body to a friend to fit some pickups he's winding for me. They've been lying around my office floor for weeks, so it was about time! Firstly the shorts; House of Fraser's returns link isn't the easiest to find but when I did, the process was simple and it gave a few options for delivery. I chose to have them collected, since it didn't cost any more than schlepping to a parcel shop, and booked this in for Tuesday. Then I packed the other item, weighted and measured it and went onto a parcel comparison website to get a price and book it in. Same day for collection and the same courier - nice and easy. So Tuesday came and I sat in the house, working away, expecting a knock and the door and for Flora the Cavapoo to go apeshit to let me know that a delivery man was here. 5pm came and went with no collection, but then my phone flashed. An email from Evri (you should have guessed by now that they were going to be the villains in this tale) to tell me that my House of Fraser parcel has been collected at 5:24! That's strange, it's still sitting at my front door! Wednesday arrives and I await the knock, but again nothing comes...until the evening when my phone flashes again - another email from tell me my House of Fraser parcel has been collected..again! That's remarkable efficiency, to collect a parcel twice, while that very parcel continues to lie by my front door! And what of the other parcel? Nothing, that's what! Eventually the parcels were collected yesterday but I have zero faith that they'll make it to their destinations. Snd I'd specifically paid for both to be collected on Tuesday! I raised this with the courier and you've never seen a man less concerned about anything. He could not have cared less.

Then there was M&S! Last week I realised I needed a couple of some shirts so I ordered them up for collection. The delivery times were too long to wait, since I needed one for Monday, so I ordered to collect from my local store on Sunday, hoping I could pick them up before I headed to the airport in the evening. Sadly, the parcel arrived late on Sunday when I was already at the airport, so it was not to be, but that's ok - the shirts had arrived on Sunday as promised. Except, they hadn't. When I checked the email again, I realised I was being asked to come and collect part of my parcel - one of the shirts wasn't there. So since the shirts were no longer urgently required, I held off until I got another email and collected them on Wednesday. But when I got there, I realised that the second email was just a copy of the first and, I fact, I was still only collecting half of my parcel! That means I'll need to do a 45-minute round trip, twice, to collect these shirts. No mention of the other half, where it was or when I could expect it. M&S were happy to take my money despite not being able to fulfil the order as requested. I've still heard nothing.

I could go on here - I have several other recent examples of different companies who I've dealt with and who have provided terrible service, but I think the point has been made! Out walking the dog, I started to reflect on this and ask what exactly is going on. Is it just bad luck on my part, or has there genuinely been a decline in the level of customer service that people can expect from companies? Obviously that's a hard one to answer but speaking to friends and family, my experiences don't feel that isolated.

So why is it? Well (and this is the part where I introduce some wild speculation!) there are probably a few things which play a part. The first is cost cutting. Organisations are constantly looking for ways to reduce their costs and with inflation the way it is right now, plus the fallout from lost revenue during the pandemic, that concern is exacerbated. Removing customer service staff, thus making it harder to get in touch with an organisation when something goes wrong, has happened across almost every organisation I deal with. Those who do still have call centres, often require you wait on hold for extended periods of time to speak to someone, and many of the rest rely on chatbot type services, which are fine for simple queries but useless for more complex ones.

Competition is another aspect. The growth of organisations such as Amazon have changed people's expectations on aspects of customer service such as ease of use and delivery times and while that seems on the surface like a good thing, because it causes Amazon's competitors to raise their game - and their competitors are basically every retailer nowadays, since Amazon have become so ubiquitous - but I wonder if it's had the opposite effect. Amazon have used these advances in customer service and increased customer expectation to drive up their market share so significantly that it's squeezing smaller retailers out of the market and forcing them to significantly cut corners to try and match on price. That's the only reason I can think of why ANY retailer would choose to use Evri as their delivery agents. The service that Evri provide is so bad (and changing their name from Hermes made absolutely no difference in this regard) that it impacts on the reputation of the companies who use them, and the fact that they undercut other delivery companies has to be the only reason they remain in business.

And another factor which comes to mind is the relationship between organisations and their employees and the impact which that has on the level of service that those employees are willing to provide on the organisation's behalf. The pandemic caused a lot of people to rethink their lives and particularly their employment situations. As well as this, there are significant layoffs and furloughs driven by the businesses themselves, meaning that many employees left their jobs to find more fulfilling work or employers who valued them. Easyjet had mass layoffs during Covid19 and have struggled to replace those staff since, putting additional strain on those who remain. Evri's rating as an employer across the usual websites is terrible. Wages have stagnated over the last 15 years in the UK and the recent cost of living crises have meant a lot of people are struggling. If you're scraping by and seeing CEOs wages and bonuses continue to rise and your company returning chunky profits to shareholders, it's not a great recipe for driving your motivation to go above and beyond. And sometimes when that happens, and the workers feel powerless, rather than taking it out on the company or the bosses (which might jeopardise their employment) the workers might well choose take it out on the customers, even if it's just via apathy.

Managing costs is important in order for companies to compete, but there are two sides to a profit and loss statement. In many cases, minimising costs doesn't drive customer service and retention. In fact, it can do the opposite. Even if companies require to do so, it's crucial that they do two things, Firstly, to recognise that the suppliers that use are a direct reflection on the company themselves. I don't order clothing from Evri, I order them from the retailer, and if the delivery company are crap, my relationship is still with the retailer. And secondly, they need to think about how they treat their staff (considering compensation, reward and recognition, support and development, giving them meaningful work and giving them sensible workloads, among other things) in order to make sure that those staff look after their customers. The worse that customer service gets across the board, the more easily it can be used by companies to differentiate themselves.

How's your experience of customer service been? Am I on my own or have you seen similar?

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