The article “Why Service Stinks” by Diane Brady presents an age-old conflict theory approach to customer service whereas the elite are serviced while the lesser advantaged customers are cast to the side in an effort to make room for a more efficient and customer service experience for the wealthiest customers. The author explains that, although the lower leveled customers receive service, the higher profits brought in by the top tiered customers afford them a more direct and comprehensive form of service than the lower leveled customers could ever conceive of receiving. In fact, the author goes as far as claiming that the limited customer service serves as an effort to get rid of the lower tiered customers completely as they often have no other recourse than to seek service at another company barring their contentment of being treated as second class citizens in the realm of customers.
With such a solid complaint, that many individuals can relate to, the author essentially says that companies do not want any customers accept the wealthiest members of society and this battle continues to create conflict between the classes and the business owners, alike. Although it is more than apparent that the higher paying customers receive better care, quicker service, and more attention, it is not the belief of this author that the corporations completely disregard the lower tiered customers. Simply speaking, it is a matter of purchasing power, bottom line considerations, and business sense that has created the necessity for various tiers in customer service.
First of all, it is important to consider the concept of economics. The more money that a person spends, the more they receive. This is the case in nearly any industry. On a corporation note, the more they give a customer, the more they will spend. It is simple mathematics. The higher profit that the customer brings in, the more the company needs to keep that customer satisfied. These customers pay for the extra service by bringing additional revenue to the company. Brady offers the following example as to how this is broken up in customer service representatives: “the top 350 business clients are served by six people. The next tier of 700 are handled by six more, and 30,000 others get Unger and one other rep to serve their needs. Meanwhile, the 300,000 residential customers at the lowest end are left with an 800 number” (Brady). This represents the fact that the business clients receive a different form of customer service than do the residential customers simply because the amount of profit that they bring in affords them this special care and the company would not be able to continue should they lose these top tier customers.
However, the companies could also not continue to exist without the lower tiered customers should they all decide to switch companies at one time. This is not truly a realistic concern as all customer service departments are aware of the need for tiers and the lower tiered customers would not receive better treatment elsewhere. Researchers note that “companies today recognize that they can supercharge profits by acknowledging that different groups of customers vary widely in their behavior, desires, and responsiveness to marketing” (Zeithaml, Roland, and Lemon 118). This is not because they are unconcerned with the lower level customers, but rather because they recognize the bottom line importance of maintaining a customer based relationship with the higher tiered clients. In other words, the base of the company lies with the profits. The lower tiered customers maintain the basic functionality of the company and therefore receive the basic level of customer service. The higher tiered customers provide the profit. Therefore, a certain percentage of these profits is reinvested in maintaining this relationship.
Notably, many companies have taken this tiered-level customer service to a level that makes many lower tiered customers feel less worthy or pushed aside. This is considered by author Thamara who claims the following:
This service selectivity is becoming increasingly subtle. Some companies are using color codes based on a customer’s worth that pop up next to his or her name. This customer service paradigm fails to accommodate the lifetime value or potential of a customer since it takes into account only the customer’s current or immediate value. Many otherwise good customers may have spotty records at times because of catastrophic illness, divorce, or family breakup, which would cause them to appear as deadbeats. A customer’s future behavior may not necessarily correspond to past behavior. (Thamara 14)
Without offering some form of incentive to lower tiered customers, these companies risk the loyalty that has long been a part of the customer service industry. Keep in mind that the lower tiered customers provide for the functioning of the company. Their financial support often began the companies in the beginning. Overlooking this loyalty, despite profit, could cost the companies the longevity that they are seeking through the higher tiered customers. In other words, each customer should be made to feel valuable through some form of incentive in order to maintain the flow of revenue.
This article poses numerous considerations. The first is that most individuals are economically savvy enough to understand that you get what you pay for. A person cannot expect to receive the same service for one dollar as another receives for one hundred dollars. This is simple business sense. However, companies must recognize the collective revenue received from the lower tiered customers as being critical to their survival. While it is not financially feasible to maintain one customer service representative per customer, it is feasible to offer incentives for tenured customers given the long term revenue received that would be similar, if not equal, to the incentives offered to the higher paying customers who would be more likely to jump to another company given a reasonable increase in service. The bottom line is, yes, customer service needs to be revamped for the lower tiered customers, but, no, the companies do not completely dismiss this customer group as being unnecessary. It really is simply business.