Beginning in the 1970s, the United States began an inexorable transformation from an industrial to a postindustrial economy. The reasons for this transformation are complex, manifold, and well beyond ordinary understanding. For most workers, however, understanding the reasons didn't really present that pressing an issue; they were too busy trying to come to terms with the effects.
The most immediate of these effects with which Americans were trying to terms was the huge contraction in the availability of manufacturing jobs. For those not destined for college and white-collar employment, blue-collar jobs represented a reliable means of securing a reasonably comfortable existence. With manufacturing jobs came collective bargaining rights, union protections, decent pay and vacation, and solid medical and retirement benefits. By the last few decades of the twentieth century, these jobs had largely dried up. As of 2012, manufacturing contributes a measly nine percent of the U.S.'s gross domestic product.
The manufacturing sector no longer able to absorb labor entering the workforce in the 1970s and after, most workers for whom dreams of a desk job would remain but dreams entered service jobs. During the Reagan-era 1980s, it was believed that an expanding service sector would offset job losses in manufacturing. What went overlooked, however, was that the benefits and protections accompanying manufacturing jobs seldom accompany service jobs. Indeed, service jobs tend to pay worse and have fewer benefits and protections than service jobs. It's safe to say, then, that postwar generations of Americans got dealt a cruddy hand by the economic vissitudes of the closing decades of last century.
Dealt this cruddy hand, most Americans played their cards, anyway. After all, what choice did they have? Everywhere factories were shuttered and strip-malls were springing up like mushrooms. You go where the work is -- and the work was generally to be found in service and retail.
With the transformation into a service economy came demands for different skills. Workers no longer needed to be nimble with machine tools; they had to be adept at dealing with people. Technical competence took a back seat to the ability to wear a friendly smile. Consumption ascended to position of primary economic driver, and consumption meant customers. The abiding maxim in retail that the customer is king meant that being able to please the king represented the royal road to profit.
Recognition of the customer's preeminent importance is one of the hallmarks of superior customer service. Yet customer serves also means much, much more. "Customer service is not just about how you handle a transaction," writes Ron Zemke in his book, "Best Practices in Customer Service." "It's about a relationship with people who are an esssential part of everything you do."
Truer words than those you'd be hard-pressed to find when it comes to fathoming the essence of customer service, for which people are the alpha and the omega. "Customer service is very personal," observes Maxine Kamin in her book, "Customer Service Training." "Our expectations vary according to circumstance and our own ideas about good service, but we all know really good customer service when we see it."
What constitutes the body of patent evidennce making good customer service so readily recognizable? "It's that special touch that makes us feel like someone cares," Kamin continues. "It's someone doing something memorable that we didn't expect."
A caring attitude and a talent for performing the unexpected: so much rides on the ability of customer service professionals to deliver on these abilities. "As we all know from being customers ourselves, poor service can undermine all of a company's efforts to retain and expand its customer base," writes John A. Goodman in his book, "Strategic Customer Service." "As customers, we know how we respond to poor service. We go elsewhere, and we often tell our friends and colleagues to do the same." The crucial difference between manufacturing and service jobs is that service jobs are immediately appraisable by the individual served, whereas manufacturing jobs may not necessarily be so. Someone touring an auto plant, for instance, may have a hard time assessing whether the worker tasked with fastening the bumpers to minivan bodies as they roll down then line is executing his function well. But someone who observes apparent diffidence, or even rudeness, in the department-store sales associate tasked with helping her select summer blouses knows that this function is being executed not at all well.
Well-executed customer service functions would seem to consist of a precarious balancing act involving a number of potentially volatile factors - the psychological and emotional equivalent of juggling lit sticks of dynamite, you might say. Yet, really, proper customer service boils down to a rather easily understood basic discipline, which is not even necessarily limited to a customer service context. "In any interaction - including business interactions - there are human needs which must be met," insists Robert Moment in his book, "Invisible Profits: The Power of Exceptional Customer Service."
Moment goes on to list these needs. They are:
A degree or certificate program in customer service recommends itself as a ready and easy way of learning the skills and discipline requisite to success in this field. In fact, pursuing studies in customer service may be one of the wisest investments you can make in yourself and your future. The customer service field is expected to add jobs at a brisk rate - some 18 percent by certain estimations - through 2018. So plotting your educational trajectory through a degree or certificate program in customer service now will position you well in coming years to enjoy a fun and rewarding career.