Friday, May 6, 2011

Customer Service as Post Modernism

I recently attended a training series put on by my government organization.  It seems that many in our department did not understand the bigger picture, the roles that people played, etc.  The intent was to describe what each department does and how we all work together.  I know it may seem unusual but I found it quite helpful since I am relatively new there.  It was a seven hour class done in 7 one hour installments, over seven weeks. 

In one session the speaker reminded us that we are all “customers” and that customer service is really important.  The comment took me back to my days as a sales manager at a mutual funds company.  I used to train sales reps in the idea that since our core funds were much the same as any other company’s funds what set our company apart was our customer service.  It wasn’t my idea but was management’s perspective.

“Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation."  From here.

Along with many others,  I feel that customer service these days is generally bad.  I remember when gas stations had attendants who pumped the gas for you, checked the oil, and cleaned windows.  That was service.  (Oregon  requires an attendant to pump gas; must be a min wage jobs program).  Today, good service has to be bought.  So, why do we talk about it so much?  I also thought, when did this focus on customer service take hold?  So, I did the usual and charted an Ngram of it.

Figure 1:  Chart of “customer service”, 1800-2008 (Google Ngrams, here).  Click on it to see bigger image.

Again, like much of what I discuss on this blog, we see in Figure 1 that the growth in usage begins in the early 1980s, with seeds planted a little earlier.  Thus, we had best consider that it is a postmodern idea.  See my earlier discussion on Ngrams and postmodernism, here.

Postmodernism is a very social perspective.  One of its basic characteristics is the emphasis on social over mental endeavors, the social interactive over the abstract.

Next, I wondered what had preceded the concept. What was the modernist concept that customer service replaced?   It would have to be something more abstract and maybe product or company focused.  I cannot come up with another word or phrase that seems to have fallen in use.   Is customer service a new idea?

Please let me know. 


  1. How about 'good manners', that one certainly follows an interesting trajectory in use:

    The concept of 'customer service' also reminds me of the 'speaking Bolshevik' argument. People in the USSR would speak in a kind of official, politically-correct language, especially in work contexts (and reserve personal issues for the non-public areas). But I do not think the West had anything aside from 'manners' until the onset of neoliberal policies.

  2. Manners seems to be an 18th century idea. There was also a mannerism period in Holland a little earlier. The 19th century liked 'respectable/respectability'. The 20th century seemed to like 'normal'.

    I am still wondering what the tasks that we today call 'customer svs' were called in the 1950s.

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