Business

Skimpflation | Same bill, but less service

No one likes finding out there are fewer cookies or spaghetti in the box for the same price, which is called reduflation. It’s no nicer to be confronted with a decline in the quality of customer service, while the bill remains unchanged or worse, increases. A phenomenon called skimpflation.

Posted at 6:30 a.m.

The term skimpflation is a portmanteau merging the verb to skimpwhich could be translated as skimping (or scratching, as we say colloquially) and the noun inflation.

Every time we wait longer on the phone, in a store or in a restaurant to be served, every time our hotel room is not cleaned during our stay, we live skimpflation. We get less for our money.

This strategy is used by companies to control costs and maintain profit margins as their own outlays soar.

For the moment, neither the Office québécois de la langue française nor TERMIUM Plus, the terminology and linguistic database of the Government of Canada, offer French translations. However, with the rate of inflation and the wages which do not cease climbing, the examples multiply.

Of course, labor shortages don’t help companies excel in service. Whether in hardware stores, fast food restaurants or at the airport, we realize this right away. He lacks arms. Ditto in call centers, where he lacks ears. So we hang around, we move around unnecessarily, we get answered nonsense. Either way, it’s pretty frustrating.

The quality of customer service has never been lower than it is right now, agrees Jean-Luc Geha, director of the HEC Montreal Sales Institute and professor. And he does not see the day when it could improve.

PHOTO HUGO-SÉBASTIEN AUBERT, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Jean-Luc Geha

“At the time, it was said that the problem was with the federal and provincial governments. We could wait for hours and hours to be answered for the tax. But it is made that we live that with companies. »

Marc Gordon is also a customer service expert. For 25 years, the Ontarian has given conferences on the subject and he has helped 300 companies to improve. I called him to find out if he is seeing the same degradation in the quality of customer service that Mr. Geha and I have. His answer, in a nutshell: yes.

This is particularly visible, he finds, in the hotel and restaurant industry.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY MARC GORDON

Mark Gordon

They don’t have the time or the resources to properly train their recruits. Management is too concerned with costs and maintaining sales.

Marc Gordon, Ontario consultant specializing in customer service for 25 years

But the shortcomings are widespread.

Including at the supermarket. According to a survey of the skimpflation conducted by Field Agent Canada among 1,554 consumers in February, 61% noticed a decrease in the number of employees and 44% felt that customer service had deteriorated. Customers find checkout lines are longer and shelves are less stocked, the magazine reported. Canadian Grocer.

Companies’ desire to circumvent the effects of inflation is also being felt in the United States.

In the first quarter of 2022, customer satisfaction there fell to its lowest level in 17 years, according to the National American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Unpleasant examples of skimpflation made headlines there as early as 2021. Planet Money reported in particular the discontent aroused by the elimination of the transport service between the parking lots and the Disney theme parks, a journey of almost a mile (1.6 km).

Supply, shortages, inflation and staffing problems caused by the pandemic have changed the culture of companies, observes Marc Gordon. “We went from ‘I want to be successful’ to ‘I want to survive’. When COVID-19 hit, companies stopped calling him for advice. They had other fish to fry.

But now that everything is reopened, guess what? “Nobody wants to talk about customer service,” says the expert.

The priorities are elsewhere: stress at work, the inclusion of visible minorities, work-family balance, mental health, and so on. These are important concerns. But, interestingly, customer experience has disappeared from the list. “What matters are the employees. »

These employees have also changed, which affects the quality of customer service, adds Jean-Luc Geha. Many want to work fewer hours, stay in telework and devote themselves more to their families. “If everyone goes to 30-hour weeks over 4 days, it’s sure that in all areas, there will be fewer employees and fewer services. »

I repeat myself, but we are not done waiting, being frustrated and disappointed…

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