Personal touch just makes good business sense

Is now the time to be cutting back on customer service? I have become very frustrated as of late with big businesses cutting our ability to contact them, forcing us to buy in ways we don’t want to, or into decisions with less information than desirable. In the middle of COVID-19 protocols, this seems more than illogical and I’m wondering if someone can explain it to me. It’s yet one more argument to support local, if we had the product/service I was looking for locally.

It’s not a new trend, to push customers to any form of self-service including self-service checkouts in stores, and I have bucked this trend all the way. I won’t use self-service unless there is a horrendous lineup and I am time-pressed, because I don’t want to be taking away someone’s job.

I thought that with COVID, we would see people picking up the telephone more, as the safe way to transact business, with some humanity still in the mix. I assumed that more help would be available by telephone once the pandemic was in full swing. I was wrong. I am shocked that some stores are actually scaling back.

Take Best Buy, for example. You can no longer call the store locally and speak to someone actually in the store. You are instead routed to a central automated system, with all of the automated choices pointing you to the website to simply buy online or to a live chat. You are given a toll-free number to call for customer service, but if you call them expect an inordinately long wait time to speak to a person who has no more knowledge than the website has. It is frustrating.

I’m not a dinosaur, having done my share of online shopping, but I still want to talk to people about high-ticket items, or to deal with certain return issues. Sometimes, website product descriptions are incomplete, and you just need to ask a simple, quick compatibility question. You can’t do this anymore with Best Buy unless you go into their store.

Why would you want me to go into the store during a pandemic? Probably because the likelihood of an abandoned shopping cart is lower in store? But again, in a pandemic, I could stop at least one more possible spreader event if you let me speak to someone in the store, then I could buy more confidently online.

Canada Post is another local example. You can’t call the main post office on Queen Street anymore. When I called their call centre to ask my questions I was given misinformation that led to a one-hour wait in a socially-distanced line, only to find out that no, they were not able to help me send back a certain return. I could have told me instantly, had I been able to call.

Am I aware that it takes employees away from face-to-face customers to answer the phone? Yes. Am I also aware that at $15 an hour, it could be someone’s full-time job to answer the phone during busy times to improve the merchant’s customer service and the consumer’s experience? Yes.

For the first time in my life, I made purchases this holiday season that ended in disputes because I didn’t get my goods, and I had to return two other items. In all of these scenarios I did not have the ability to talk to someone about my purchase in advance, and was forced to buy online, unassisted.

This is why I try to buy from local small businesses as much as possible: they answer their phones, they help you buy their products, they stand by their products with returns, and they understand what customer service means.

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