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Customer Service Inflation

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What You Need to Know

  • Many companies are understaffed.
  • People are furious.
  • Maybe apps can help.

The past couple years have been challenging, to say the least. Uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic continues. And, it’s affecting our lives — both personally and professionally. Inflation, pressure to hold down expenses, the ability to staff for operations and supply chain issues — regardless of industry, all appear to be concerns that will weigh heavy this year. These challenges will likely have a lasting impact on our lives.  For businesses, these issues are jeopardizing customer service, the heart and soul of any organization.

Think about it for a moment. Are you receiving exceptional, pre-pandemic customer service? Or, is it lacking in many instances? Seems like “just getting by,” or “glad they are even open” is the new reality.

Labor shortages are clearly at the heart of the issue — with many businesses closing on certain days or shortening hours of operations. To further underscore the severity of the issue, CNBC recently reported that half of the 11,000 employees surveyed revealed that their companies were understaffed.

Whether it’s people shifting to a healthier work-life balance, or just reshuffling jobs within the workforce, it’s affecting the service provided. The quit rate — a measure of monthly reduction in employment — is at all-time highs, with about 4 million changing jobs or dropping out of the workforce altogether per month.

One part of the solution: Make sure benefits hassles aren’t pushing good employees out the door.

Recruitment and Retention

Staffing issues are having a negative effect on customer service. Restaurant hours, lack of flights, and housekeeping at hotels have all been impacted. The supply chain slowdown has highlighted the problem. Lumber, furniture, and goods from oversees are all delayed and going through challenges from price fluctuation to extended delivery wait times of up to a year!

How many times in the past few months has a customer been told that an item is not available due to a staffing issue or a supply chain problem. It’s everywhere and it’s having an impact on consumer expectations.

Unfortunately, many businesses are forced to hire anyone that’s available — and placing them into service without sufficient training, understanding of corporate history, culture, or company values — just to stay open. Even worse, with all the other opportunities available with most everyone hiring, people are free to jump around without much care of their current role or position, as there appears to be a wide-open job market for those willing to test the waters.

Disrespectful Consumers

From flights being diverted due to unruly passengers to service businesses seeing much longer wait-times, the level of customer frustration is escalating across the board. BusinessInsider.com reported a recent poll of restaurant workers from earlier this year noted eight in 10 said that they had experienced hostile behavior from customers who didn’t want to follow COVID-19 safety protocols. About half said they were considering leaving their jobs, and of that group, four in 10 said this was because of customer hostility and harassment. Are we destined for a new normal where we are forced to lower expectations?

Looking further down the road, one has to wonder, how much will change permanently? Should customers lower expectations and prepare to pay more? Or, are businesses going to double-down to ensure stellar service, using that as a way to stand out?

Consolidation and Cost Containment

Given these issues impacting customer service, what can help to right the ship when it comes to continuing to offer customers high-quality service?

For starters, employers and consumers want more products and services from fewer touch points. Fewer staff means less time, so bundling more services from a limited number of vendors makes sense. Consumers are inundated with benefit choices and options from all directions. Take HR functions for example.

Being able to access similar items from common touch points makes sense — like combining numerous apps, phone numbers and websites for health plan, benefit information, virtual health and telemedicine services, and enrollment services all in one app. This streamlines the process at all levels, cuts administrative costs for employers, and provides year-round convenience to plan members. Similar consolidation is occurring in all industries.

Even as employers and clients look for more products and services, they simply don’t have the staff or time to coordinate multiple services from multiple providers. The solution is to be able to get what they need from sources that offer it all under one roof.

As a result, the industry will continue to see national players consolidate agencies, offering turnkey products and services to employer clients. This puts additional pressure on small and mid-size agencies to get creative and to partner with services that can help them compete with the big agencies.

Properly deployed, this shift to consolidation and even outsourcing can provide higher levels of customer service with fewer people and lower costs. It will also increase satisfaction and peace-of-mind for everyone.

Employers may not be able to correct supply chain problems or curb inflation on their own, but they can help to provide an environment to attract the best employees and offer a rewarding experience for consumers. Paying attention to costs, offering support services to employees, and looking for new ways to thrive in a post-COVID world will go a long way in preparing for a sound future.


Bart SheelerBart Sheeler is co-founder and CEO of Benezon, a technology and benefit app company providing a personalized health care advocacy service for health plan members