Does the recession lower customer expectations?

18Mar09

While waiting on hold with some random call center, I noticed something strange: I’ve actually become more patient over the past few months. Normally, I would have been rather annoyed with a 15 minute delay, but this time I didn’t mind. “They must be really overwhelmed,” I thought to myself, figuring that the company had some layoffs and a smaller group of agents was handling all the same work.

As I thought about this more, I realized that I’ve been making the same assumption about other customer service interactions. My expectations are measurably lower because of what’s going on with the economy, and I’m more forgiving of slow responses. If other consumers are thinking along the same lines, how should businesses react?

While the temptation might be to cut back even further in light of reduced expectations, I think a more balanced approach will be more successful. In particular, if wait times are longer because you’ve had to cut back on staffing, then you should appeal to people’s sense of reason. Just make sure what you tell customers is honest and never condescending. And of course, don’t overdo it: you still need to provide high-quality service during a recession, but people will understand if things take a little bit longer than normal.



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