Customer Service, Come Back!

Disintermediation. That's a long and very officious term for a simple concept: Get rid of the middleman. And while getting rid of the middleman may have helped a lot of companies' bottom lines, it may have caused a lot of other headaches.

As we've cut out middlemen (more correctly, middlepersons) there has been a corresponding drop in customer service without causing a drop in customer prices. It seems to me that we are now paying more to have less service. Some examples:

      • Gas stations – no one to check our tires and wash our windshields.
      • Department stores – no one to ask, "Do you have this in my size?"
      • Government agencies (the DMV comes to mind) – take a number.
      • Travel – check a bag for $25 and print out your own boarding pass.
      • Restaurants – tables not cleared and restrooms not cleaned.

Even Disneyworld, the most magical place on Earth, that used to be known for customer service, has cut back. The Land of Magic isn't as clean, tidy and welcoming as it used to be, but the prices continue to go up.

Customer service, come back!

The widespread use of the Internet is one of the biggest reasons that customer service is vanishing. Consumers have been told that we can manage almost everything faster, better and more cheaply ourselves. Large corporations bought in to this idea, big time, but how did that work out for you? Often, your issue isn't in their FAQs and calling the customer service phone number just gets you the automated telephone tree.

An online search for "customer service" delivers millions of pages, mostly links to individual company's websites. Sprinkled among them are links to companies offering to help other companies improve customer service. Wouldn't bringing back one-to-one human contact work better? Please make sure the humans are knowledgeable and have the power to actually help. And make sure the human's attitude is sincerely helpful.

In industries like ours, middlemen are facilitators. We facilitate our client's projects and events by providing expert information and excellent service. Cutting out the facilitators may seem more efficient and cost-effective at first blush, but if "time is money," clients who bypass facilitators aren't saving money at all because researching, arranging for and managing their projects and events takes a lot of time and expertise.

A DJ in Canada who argues on his website that he can save clients money by dealing directly with them actually makes an excellent case for using a facilitator. He asks: "What are the five most common fears in hiring a DJ?"

  • Is he or she going to show up?
  • Will they follow my instructions?
  • What if they play the wrong type of music?
  • Is their equipment of professional quality, reliable and complete?
  • Is the DJ going to look and be professional for my function?

Without a facilitator for entertainment, flowers, caterers and all the other services we provide, clients are responsible for doing it themselves. And when something goes wrong, there's no one to call for help.

Disintermediation – getting rid of the middleman – sure sounds like a good idea when money is the only object. However, as web developer Adam Maltpress recently wrote: "As we get swamped by more and more information and more and more choices, we're going to need more and more help filtering the data and making our choices...It's a paradox: the more we can remove middlemen, the more we need them."


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