Teaching Customer Services to walk in Cargo Pants.

Published in Campaign India first.

If you were a middle class school kid growing up in the 80s, going to the airport meant dressing up. Even if it was simply to pick someone up. But walk into an airport today and you will see travellers dressed casually. In the kind of clothes you wear when Mom asks you, on a Sunday morning, go get bread from Guptaji’s grocery store. Shorts, chappals, track pants or cargo pants, you see people in all kinds of casual clothes. Flying is now your regular 3 Tier AC compartment, only, it’s at 35,000 ft.

From weddings to food to relationships, casual and easy going is everywhere. Listen to the language spoken by kids and in movies, you will hear a lot of Hinglish or its equivalents. Language has broken through its stiff corsets of formality.  

Rapid urbanization, nuclear families, the internet, social media and many such factors are lowering power distance to make things around you more casual and easy going.

Marketers and ad agencies define a brand’s tone. This is reflected in advertising and new media formats, from memes and vines there is a new language being spoken in brand marketing. If you don’t understand YOLO and FOMO, the word you choose to express your exasperation is probably NSFW. If you still don’t understand all this, please ask your bae what this means.

Marketers and agencies labor over scripts and copy to stay in sync with times and the language consumers speak. However, for most brands their Customer Services seem stuck in a time warp. They are still dressing up for their proverbial trip to the airport. Extremely stiff language is used in all communications to customers and by Call Center agents. There may be many reasons for this, a belief that casual conversational language may tick customers off to a lack of brand orientation with the “back room boys” to a need for legalese as part of warranty clauses or other legal requirements.

But at its very core is an organization not embracing the truth that marketing is more than just advertising. A brand speaks through all consumer touch points and the tone and voice used in Customer Service plays its role. Agencies don’t seem very interested too. Working with Customer Services seems like grunt work. Boring, unsexy, complicated and may involve a fair bit of technical understanding too. You don’t win a Cannes for writing an Owner’s Manual or a Help-line script, do you?

But many brands have got this right. They invest in the best talent, involve the agency to get the scripts right, train Customer Service agents to respond in the brand’s tone and to make context specific adjustments. Case in point, earlier this year, a customer complained and vented his angst on an internet startup’s Customer Service desk in the form of a lovely little ditty. The company responded similarly and there was a charming poetic exchange back and forth until the problem was resolved.

Brand building is an organization wide effort, so why is Customer Services lagging behind? There is enough evidence that customers prefer easy going, conversational interactions in customer service. Why still uptight and formal, isn’t it time Customer Service starts wearing Cargo Pants, or, as The Joker from Batman said, Why So Serious?