Do Smartphones Undermine Customer Service?

As we head into the Independence Day holiday weekend, many people will be going away on trips, and when they do, they will be bringing their smartphones with them so they can keep up with e-mails and business contacts.  It sounds like a great plan, right?  What could go wrong?

Lately I’ve had some frustrating experiences trying to take care of some personal business with people who were pursuing that very strategy.  It has led me to wonder if smartphones and other technology have caused too many people to disregard long-standing customer service practices.

“Love (of technology)” by Streetmatt licensed under CC by 2.0.

What do I mean?  Well, instead of people making arrangements to deal with their business clients while they are away or out of town, they just don’t respond or they take a long time to respond.  Instead of assigning a back-up who can handle things while they are away, or instead of making it clear to their clients when they will return and what they will or won’t be able to do in the interim, they just figure they can be reached on their smartphones and let things slide for a while.

So why am I blaming it on smartphones?  I think that for some people, the fact that they have a smartphone makes them believe that they can always be connected and so they don’t have to figure out a backup plan for the times when they are away or busy.  And, yes, some people really do stay connected like that all of the time, which is admirable (if not necessarily always wise), but few are that devoted.

Likewise, I’m sure many of us have had the experience of going into some business where service staff were preoccupied with their smartphones instead of being focused on or attentive to customers.  Now while that can be blamed on poor management–if they were not instructed to do otherwise–the reality is that such behavior even occurs in commission-driven businesses.  I’m not suggesting smartphones are the only reason for a decline in customer service, but they can be one of many contributing factors.

So what is to be done?  Those who work in a field where customer service is a key part of their responsibilities need to regard their smartphones as a useful tool, but one that can help them do their jobs better,  not one that alleviates them of responsibilities that they would otherwise have to worry about.

What are your thoughts?  Do smartphones contribute to a decline in customer service?  What have your experiences been?

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