America, economists and financiers tell us, is in a post-industrial age. We are no longer the envy of the world because of factories like Willow Run and no longer can we out-produce the rest of the world combined. No, when we want a plastic tomato that walks or even a dreidel for Chanukah, we have to send to China to supply our wants.
Now, there are those that say we live in a service economy and the service factor of the products that are sold here are more important than ever. That is, if you buy a computer or an automobile, chances are your ability to get service for that product is a factor in your decision. So, if service is so important to our economy, why does it suck so bad.
Here's why, in a word, software. Or more accurately those managers who believe that software or science or technology can answer all our service needs. These are the people who create phone trees, mechanized voices and who construct service models that ask for your 16-digit account number 12 times in a single call. These are the cost-cutters who seem to assure the line at the counter is always eight deep and hell will freeze over before you can find knowledgeable help at a chain store.
I have a simple rule, I call it the 90-10 rule. 90% of all customer problems probably can be solved by software. 90% of the books you're looking for at Barnes & Nobel can probably be found via an in-store computer. But 10% of problems need a person's-involvement. A person to say "how can I help you?" A person who is empowered and not following a script that makes them essentially software-based protoplasm. A person who can say "thank you" with conviction.
My sense is that if a FedEx or a Home Despot or even a car company announced that they followed the 90-10 rule, customers would flock to them.
But I am crazy and no one listens to me.