The Lost Art of Conversation

Some people say that customer service is not what it used to be. That point registered with me recently through an observation made by my 12-year-old son. We were shopping at a local department store, taking advantage of great deals on men’s clothing. As we checked out, the sales associate was very pleasant and talkative. She told us about other sale items and even about purse snatchings that had taken place at area stores.

We walked away and my son remarked “she sure was full of herself, wasn’t she!” When I asked what he meant, he said that she talked a lot. I paused momentarily and it hit me why he made that observation: That level of personal touch has become the exception rather than the rule in customer service. “That is how it is supposed to be” was my response. Traditionally, department stores have been known for delivering a personal touch. Sadly, that experience is delivered less frequently today. My professional career in marketing began in retail management for a department store. Our associates were required to write 10 thank-you notes to customers weekly. Timely approach of customers was expected. Sales associates were to be more than cashiers and serve as a resource to customers.

My son’s perceptions of what customer service is (and is not) have been shaped by mostly unremarkable interactions with service providers. Not necessarily bad service, but not the kind of experiences that you walk away from and go “wow – that was great.” A generation is being acclimated to “service” being driven by technologies such as self-checkout and online ordering. Measures of service quality are based more on the reliability of the technology than the personal attention given. 

It almost sounds funny to say that conversation can be a brand differentiator. But, my son’s take on what is extraordinary customer service suggests that a personal touch has the ability to stand out in an environment that is often more concerned with transaction efficiency. Embrace the art of conversation – show customers that you value their business and more importantly that you value them.

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