Many companies don’t appreciate—or they only pay lip service to—the fact that customer service should be treated like a product. Customers may not pay for it directly, but it is as important as anything in a company’s official product line. After studying two large corporations in 2014, Harvard Business Review concluded that customer experience has a quantifiable impact on future earnings (see article). The annual American Express survey on customer service confirms that good service is indeed good business (see 2014 press release). One thing we can all agree on is that people complain about customer service as much as the quality of a product. After all, you buy something once, and after that it’s the support department you have to work with. Think about your telephone company or cable service provider.
The Internet has made service a bit more complicated. Customer service no longer begins when someone walks into a business—it starts as soon as a Web site receives an on-line message. Whether it’s GM or the DMV, a company or government agency must answer all electronic inquiries. Failure to do so is akin to not answering the phone. Because the Internet is on 24x7, the volume of e-mail may far exceed the number of phone calls during business hours. But digital communication is here to stay, so it’s just part of doing business.
There are companies that purposely leave out any e-mail info or contact form on their sites. Talk about cutting off the nose to spite the face. While we can all relate to the annoyance of spam, we simply ask these companies if they would consider not publishing their phone numbers because of telemarketers.
In 2015, we contacted as an experiment over 400 places in the Bay Area that serve a cheese plate. You wouldn’t believe how often we ran across invalid e-mail addresses (nonexistent or belonging to former employees) or problematic contact forms (send failure or hard-to-read verification code, for example). It’s as inexcusable as publishing the wrong phone number, something no business owner would tolerate.
E-mail software is notorious for producing false positives when it comes to spam detection. So we wonder how many companies remember to check the spam folder. But we suspect the majority of the time nobody is actually checking these e-mail accounts. This scenario may arguably be worse than withholding contact info. Given all these issues, we can report that we received replies from only about 50 companies. You can look at the Where to Eat section of our cheese guide for the list of establishments we contacted.
Until companies start treating e-contact info as the phone—and really taking customer service seriously—nothing will change.
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