The Decline of Professionalism and Customer Service

Has anyone else noticed that there seems to be a decline in professionalism and customer service lately?

I didn’t use to feel that way. I have worked in different areas of customer service myself and know the vast majority of professionals are, well, professional (and courteous). However, a few recent encounters have left me feeling unappreciated as a customer (or potential client) and have left me asking, “Has anyone else noticed there seems to be a decline in professionalism and customer service?”

I used to believe the vast majority of professionals were competent, skilled and proficient – now I’m not so sure. It is likely that the majority (slightly more than half) of the professionals out there still are courteous, knowledgeable and punctual, just not the overwhelming majority there used to be.

My most recent experiences have dealt primarily with the housing service and travel industry. Though most have been unwelcome “learning experiences”, thankfully, there are exceptions to this rule.

As a consumer, you don’t have to put up with condescending tones-of-voice, incompetence that leaves you vulnerable to incurring expense or rude service providers that don’t respect you. There are no excuses for poor planning or not returning a phone call or email promptly (24 to 48 hours is more than enough time if there is no “out of office” courtesy notification).

As a consumer, what are the options for resolving poor or outright horrendous service experiences? (For the record, I believe rudeness and incompetence belong in this category.)

The first logical step is to address the problem directly with the business or individual. Sometimes this works well, and a resolution is reached quickly. Misunderstandings can easily get out of control if left unresolved. Solving issues early on is the most useful for the consumer.

However, what happens when the first (or first several) calls or emails are not returned, receive a negative reply or dismissed?

Consumers can continue to reach out to the contact person or small business owner, or go a step past that, and reach out to a supervisor. Unfortunately, in the case of many small businesses or sole proprietors, those two are one-in-the-same.

A sole proprietor is a business or professional service run by the individual providing the service. Examples would be a real estate agent, builder or contractor, property manager, photographer or cleaning company. However, this is not always the case as some of these professions can also belong to larger corporations. Hiring a small business owner or sole proprietor can be to your advantage or disadvantage (my experience has been that it can go either way). It is always wise to do your research before hiring anyone.

If you are doing business with a professional that has a chain-of-command structure, consumers can often find success resolving a conflict by involving his or her point of contact’s superior. Often, an outside ear, or someone with a bit more power to make things happen, is all that’s needed to clear up a misunderstanding.

If that doesn’t work, making a complaint to the state or federal agency that governs the profession will not only help you build a case (if that is, unfortunately, necessary), but will send a message that you are willing to see things through until a mutual resolution is found. Filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) can also help. After notifying either of these entities, it can also be wise to forward a copy to the business or individual associated with the complaint.

Depending on the severity of the problem arbitration or legal action may also be necessary. Though this should always be a last step, consumers should not be afraid to use the power of the legal system, if need be. Yes, it can be costly and time-consuming, but the U.S. legal system is one of the most highly functioning on the planet and should not be automatically dismissed.

According to Lisa Gaunt, alternative processes are also being explored as a way to resolve complaints against professionals. The alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a process that allows parties an opportunity to meet in a non-adversarial environment. “The parties have an opportunity to describe their perspectives in a way that ensures they have been understood,” something that isn’t always possible in an arbitration or court hearing, Gaunt explained.

Though Gaunt admitted there are challenges to implementing the ADR system – such as defining what types of complaints are appropriate and how real or perceived power imbalances will be addressed. Still, the system has its advantages over the traditional hearing process, which may fail to address some of the important underlying issues.

Another alternative, consumers have their disposal, is to contact the business or individual via a social media site. Often posting questions or the gist of an unanswered (or unsatisfactorily answered) correspondence to a Twitter or Facebook will garner an immediate response from the party in question. Social media is not a place to air your dirty laundry, but posting an intelligently compiled, legitimate argument on a business’s social media account can get results.

Author and social media and marketing expert Simon Mainwaring said, “social media will become a powerful tool that consumers will aggressively use to influence business attitudes and force companies into greater social responsibility . . . ” Social responsibility to consumers and the environment.

Lastly, firing a professional for not respecting you is completely acceptable. Though I would advise politely and professionally informing the individual or their superior about why you are letting him or her, or the company, go. Not being honest about the service you have received and the reason you decide to take your business elsewhere won’t help the situation.

Ultimately, the number of steps required, the amount of time, and money, spent resolving an issue will depend on the individual consumer. Weighing all of the options is prudent.

A few questions consumers can ask themselves include:

  1. Is this worth my time, effort and money?
  1. How much do I stand to gain/loose? (Monetarily, time, mental energy exerted.)
  1. Who will this affect in the future if I decide to go through with fighting this? (Will you miss out on family time, work or other important life events?)
  1. Who will this affect in the future if I decide to drop the issue? (Is this company/professional likely to take advantage of other, more vulnerable individuals who don’t have the means/time to do anything about it, like an elderly widow/er or single mom?)
  1. How will the results affect me personally? (Will you be more upset about dropping the matter or pushing on, even with no guarantee of success?)

The answer to each question will likely be different for each person; married couples will have to find a compromise that works best for both of them.

Oddly, despite the perceivable decline in professionalism and customer service, studies show a strong link between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. Findings from a study on the relationship between customer satisfaction and loyalty showed that the more satisfied the customer, the higher the loyalty to the brand/product. According to a study conducted by Lars Gronholdt, Anne Martensen and Kristen Kai, “analysis shows that the relationship between consumer satisfaction and loyalty is strongly significant.”

So why does customer service and professionalism seem to be on the decline? Your guess is as good as mine. One thing I do know if you are receiving poor service or dealing with an unresponsive professional, it is to your advantage to exhaust all of your options before throwing in the towel. Sometimes all it takes is to do your homework, know your rights, and not let the “professional” bully you into accepting sub-par service.

One last piece of advice, if a business or individual has gone out of his or her way to provide you with excellent customer service, visibly shown their appreciation for your business or gone above and beyond what the industry standard is – thank them.

Refer him or her to your friends and family. Write a detailed review of the service he or she provided you and why you appreciated it. Send a positive review of their business to the BBB or government agency that oversees his or her area of business. Publically support him or her on social media and other professional sites.

Professionalism and customer service go both ways. Stand up for yourself as a consumer, but put just as much effort into showing appreciation for a business or professional that has done an exemplary job.


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Guest author: Kristi Reed is a freelance writer and photographer living in SE Asia with her family. She is actively engaged in combating global injustice, ending modern-day slavery and documenting current world events. Kristi is currently seeking a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University.

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