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Do you care about the customer?

Are you encouraging staff to work from home? How does that sit alongside the need for good customer service, asks business guru Steve Elsom.

In my previous article, I referenced the importance of business planning, of seeking a fresh perspective and of being bold. In all of the furore that business owners find themselves caught up in at present, I believe that one critical aspect is being ‘overlooked’ – customer service. I’m beginning to feel that my custom isn’t valued, I am just a transaction and that the whole customer experience is becoming a chore.

It’s one thing ‘seeking fresh perspectives and being bold’ but if this is against a backdrop of deteriorating customer service – it’s a pointless exercise.

How many businesses still rely on a recorded phone message advising me that they are experiencing high call volumes at the current moment, and that my call is important and an operator will be with me shortly? Too many. I put this messaging to the test by calling a travel business at several times during the same day and again at the weekend – same response, same delay – over 45 minutes on hold, before I gave up! And then, can I find someone to email to bring this poor experience to their attention? Of course not. Instead, I get a bot asking me if I would like a 10% discount on a weekend break to Amsterdam in December!

Being of an inquisitive disposition, I have asked several C-suite individuals about their perception of whether customer service has deteriorated.

Naturally, they didn’t feel this was the case, citing the unprecedented challenges thrown at them by the pandemic, and the need to pivot and re-purpose their offering accordingly. I pointed out that in some cases, less than 25% of their staff were back in the office, and enquired why that should be given that supermarkets are working on a fully staffed basis. Is the ‘tail wagging the dog’?

I suspect thousands of office workers have become very acclimatised to ‘working from home’, and it’ll be wrench for them to give up their mid-morning dog walks, school pick-ups and some mid-afternoon TV – to return to the structure and formality of turning up at their place of work. Yes, their ‘place of work’, where files are kept, colleagues are on hand to offer support and advice and a teamship and reputation is developed. It’s nigh on impossible to achieve that over the phone or down a camera lens, hence my assertion that customer service is deteriorating.

In a customer facing business, is it right that a business is still not seeing its customers ‘face to face’, isn’t undertaking any site visits and is offering only a totally reactive service? No wonder statistics point to a fall in productivity; it isn’t all down to poor wages, it’s because the leaders in the business have allowed it to happen.

It’s about time that leaders took some bold decisions and thought about ‘the customer’ before making sweeping statements on a ‘working from home culture’. This culture is having an adverse impact on customer service, from call answering times to staff training. Staff are not being trained, and as a consequence those ‘people skills’ are not being developed and as a consequence of that, customers become ‘transactions’ and not ‘meaningful interactions’.

The ’new norm’ is in danger of taking us backwards, and it’s time for business leaders to practise what they preach and genuinely place the customer at the ‘heart of their business’.

Steve Elsom is director with Number 4 Consulting. Contact him via or visit

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Steve is a regular contributor to B2B publications, see some of his recent articles for insights into current business news, leadership and much more...