When the tech industry took a dive in 2001 and companies began making huge cuts to their service operations, I was quoted in a press interview calling this “the death of the service industry.” The line was picked up by a wire service, and complaints starting rolling in from companies saying I was far too harsh. I stand by my assessment, and in retrospect, the amazing advancements we are seeing today in customer support, such as more highly personalized and differentiated service, more intelligent approaches to outsourcing (involving partnering—not cutting a check and forgetting about it), and the birth of the entire ‘customer experience’ concept, are the end result of these dark days of service. When service organizations lost their clout and their budgets, and service levels began tanking, companies soon found out what a huge impact the service organization had on customer satisfaction and loyalty. I’m sorry it took such dire conditions to bring about this realization—which some of us in the industry have been spouting about for years—but thank God it happened.
The death of service starts inside a company with a shift from viewing customers as the lifeblood of the company to treating them as an inconvenient and expensive interruption. When a news item crossed my desk this week, I felt I was living 2001 all over again. Here’s the deal: According to the New York Times, Walmart.com has decided to stop offering phone support, saying their online self-service tools are so great that phone assistance is no longer necessary. There are holes in this argument big enough to drive a NAFTA truck full of cheap goods through, including: