For many people (if not most), Customer Service is synonymous with a department with people who have phones glued to their ears. A phone number you can call to complain. An e-mail address you can write to, and maybe get an answer back. If you think about it that way, customer service is sad.

The time has come to bury it. This kind of customer service has become very old indeed, and outlived its purpose.

This is a wake-up call for anyone thinking that customer service is something handled by a customer service department, provided by customer service reps diligently typing at their help desk applications…

Stop chasing that ghost! You’re beating a dead horse!

The time has long gone, where your customer service was the only place unhappy customers could go. The Internet is a common place to talk about just about anything that’s on your mind. Forums, social sites like MySpace and Facebook, YouTube for videos, blogs, customer complaint web sites, the list goes on and on.

These days, it’s much more likely that your mistakes are plastered all over the Information Superhighway instead of coming to you. It’s only human to get mad, and get even.

You need much more than ‘just’ a customer service department to make and keep happy customers.

Every time a customer comes into contact with your business, you either add or take away from that relationship:

When they come to your web site… Fast and easy to use: add. Slow loading web site, with unnecessary ‘features’ as an animated splash page: take away.
When they read about your products… A comprehensive description of features and benefits: add. One-liner, and half of that is the type code: take away.
When they come into your store… Light, clean, easy to move around: add. Lanes filled with re-stockers blocking the way: take away.
When they talk to one of your sales persons… Friendly and helpful: add. Obnoxious, ignoring, or rushing: take away.
When they use your products… Easy to use and set up: add. Easy to break: take away.
When they get an invoice… Correct, understandable: add. One big puzzle, and if you solve it the figures are wrong: take away.
When they talk to your other customers (either face-to-face or online)… Good stories: add. Bad stories: take away.

I could go on and on with this list.

Think of it this way: whenever your customers come into contact with your business, it’s like they’re sliding on a surface you provide.

Whenever you do something to add to the relationship, you make that surface smooth, and your customers easily slide into whatever you want them to do (buy products again and again). If you take away from the relationship, you make the surface rough, making it harder and harder for the customer to reach your destination. Until they stop and go away.

If you consider this, the old school way of doing customer service is just a secondary response. Things have gone wrong along the way, literally rubbing the customer the wrong way. And when (if!) the customer finally reaches the customer service department, it’s up to them to straighten things out. If they still can that is, and it’s not too late.

So if you really want to service your customers, you need to get better than setting up a customer support hotline and all that it entails. The entire company needs to become customer obsessed, constantly thinking about how to make things going smoother for the customer…

In this scenario, everybody is a customer service rep. From the product designer, to the webmaster. From the production line operator to the financial administrator. From the sales person to the CEO. Every business needs to find out what each of these individuals can do to make things smoother for the customer.

The truly successful examples of great customer service have always done this. They are obsessed with making lives easier for their customers in whatever they do. They are touching the customer in a good way.

That’s the new kind of customer service, risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the old. But that old way of doing customer service is dead, and businesses that hang onto it, are destined to go the way of the dodo as well.