Is customer service a lost art form?

Posted On June 17, 2014

Much time is spent lamenting the work ethic of younger generations in the work force—they are disengaged, too attached to their social networks, not focused on the needs of their coworkers…they just don’t understand the way things work in the real world. And for years my argument has been you have to teach them.

The same may be said of customer service. News stories and personal anecdotes tell a disturbing tale, especially in the professional services industry. Where Boomer and Mature workers valued and relied on face time and relationships, today’s workers value efficiency and technology. As a result, they aren’t picking up the phone, or the lunch bill, with clients nearly as frequently as their predecessors did. They are doing the work without building the relationships. And my answer is still the same; you have to teach them.

Customer service, like work ethic, is part nature and part nurture. Younger generations have a tendency to be less intimidated by titles, which may make you assume they will be comfortable taking on a client advisory role as they grow in their careers. But there is a great difference between being willing to email a CEO to ask a tactical question and being able to talk to one about their business strategy.  The first only requires knowing who you are; the second involves trusting your commitment to his or her success.

To help your younger team members build those important skills, find ways to include them in meaningful meetings. Alternately, or in addition, hold internal meetings and have your younger employees set the agenda and run the meeting. Provide feedback.

More tactically, coach them to talk to clients more frequently. State communication requests explicitly “Call ABC Company tomorrow and let them know the order will be delivered Tuesday” requires a two-way discussion with the customer, whereas “Contact ABC to let them know the order status” can, and likely will, be handled with email.

In most cases, the perceived decline in customer service is not about bad attitudes, but bad habits. As a boss, you have the opportunity and obligation to teach better habits.

Categories: Generation Y / Millennials, Workplace