Kenneth L. Hardin: Business breakups are always difficult and painful

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2022

I’ve written previously about my willingness to speak up when offered less than optimal customer service. Nothing has changed since we last talked. Poor customer service knows no singular address, individual or industry, and you don’t have to share similar visual acuity traits with Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles to recognize its demise.

I’ve been irritated and disenchanted with the level of service offered at hospitals, restaurants, banks, inconvenience stores, phone reps and other service-related businesses. If I hear it’s because of short staffing one more time, I may just…let’s just move on.

When you’re dealing with people and human emotions, service failures will occur. But occasionally dropping the service ball is not the concern. It’s how you respond to those failures that makes the difference. Too many companies have mission and value statements that are nothing more than fancy words hanging in a pretty frame on the wall that most employees couldn’t recite if asked.

Employees who don’t find value in what they do will disconnect from their roles, and then from their customers. The late Walt Disney said it best, “You can dream, create and design the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make that dream a reality.”

Mrs. Fields of cookie fame said it even better, “Good customer service does not come from a manual, it comes from the heart.”

If you have to teach someone to be kind, compassionate and caring, they have no business being the public representation of your organization. There are some people who should never be in a role interacting with people. I recommend they go work with trees or grass, but I wouldn’t want to punish nature either.

How valued do you feel when you’re in the role of the consumer, and spending your hard-earned money? Do you feel that in every personal encounter with a business and their employees, you’re provided with the highest in customer service? If you’re a repeat customer, why do you return if you’ve been disrespected?

Complacency in any type of relationship is a hard thing for me to understand. Why do businesses get so comfortable and begin taking you for granted after you’ve been in a long-term relationship with them? There’s a saying that all businesses should heed, “What got you there ain’t gon’ keep you there.”

Businesses need to show loyalty instead of simply flooding customers’ emails and mailboxes with promotions and literature saying how valued you are to them. Many fail to show you respect and appreciation until you let them know you’re leaving them for their competitor.

I’ll share the details of recent pain I endured that resulted in my unfortunate breakup with my long-term entertainment provider partner. It was difficult because they (it’s still hard for me to say their name, mainly because I don’t want to get sued) helped raise me as a child of the ’70s with Captain Kangaroo, Looney Tunes, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and the Sunday night Disney movie. I allowed them into my home into the ’90s and 2000s to help with rearing my three boys. During the good times, it was all about the Power Rangers, Blue’s Clues and Barney.

I was even willing to stand by them during the difficult times of reality TV. I noticed things began to change between us as they grew bigger. They didn’t seem to be as attentive to my needs or as quick to respond to my calls as They used to. Instead of getting a live voice to address my concerns, I got an automated female voice who had trouble understanding the numbers and phrases I eventually screamed in frustration. into the phone. When I had technical problems, I was kept on hold a lot longer than I used to wait. During one call, I was put on hold for 27 minutes, but at least they had a recording that kept coming on every so often telling me how important my call was to them. When I finally broke up with them and explained why, I paraded a list of unreturned service calls, rude employees, inconsistent billing, excessive waits without explanation and multiple phone transfers.

Business breakups don’t have to happen. Companies could avoid them if they recognized the importance of meeting and exceeding customers’ basic needs and expectations. Companies also have to understand the importance of competition. Whoever the customer compares you to for the services you provide is your competition. You can then better understand what their expectations are for their experience with you.

“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to respond quickly and fix things when they go wrong.”  The hurt from the breakup remains; but I’m healing. It’s something about having 250 HD channels with someone else that makes the pain easier to take.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.