Historically, customer service was delivered over the phone or in person.  Customers didn’t have many choices, and switching to competitors was cumbersome.  Today, these methods are but two of the many possible points of entry for any given interaction. With all the options the Internet brings, competition is literally a click away.


However, online customer service is not good–to put it mildly.  In fact, some people say it stinks. Why?  The web is but one dimension.  It doesn’t have the human response — the necessary for back and forth live communication–that is so critical.


Twenty five years from now customers will still be human beings, still be driven by desires and needs.  Virtual environments do not create virtual customers.   Except for the simplest transactions, customers still need to be connected with and nurtured by a live person. Amazon.com has learned this.  They employ hundreds of traditional customer service representatives using phone lines to help customers with questions that cannot be dealt with online. 


In today’s competitive marketplace there is little difference between products and services.  What makes the difference, what distinguishes one company from another, is its relationship with the customer.  Who has the awesome responsibility for representing themselves, their companies, perhaps your industry in general?  Your front lines whether they’re receptionists, admins, customer service reps, or you..


However, being great on the telephone doesn’t necessarily translate into the written word, whether it’s e-mail, faxback, or text-chat.  As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has said, one out of six Americans are functionally illiterate. (New York Times, August 11, 1999). 


What can we do about this?  Hire for attitude, train for aptitude.  For instance, train for language skills, basic or advanced.  Train for communication and listening skills, rapport building, empathetic responsiveness, conflict resolution, anger diffusion, and other soft skills.  Perceive training as an ongoing process, not an event.


One of the most powerful documents in the world, the U.S. Constitution, begins with “We, the people...”  Yes, ‘we the people’ make the difference.