One of the notable things about the 1980s way of doing business was how front line workers weren’t valued for their skills and knowledge.
In call centres, shopping malls and government departments, those who dealt with customers were seen as an unnecessary expense who should be outsourced at the first opportunity or, if it wasn’t possible to hive them off, then encourage them to get more money out of the customer while providing less service.
An example of this was at electronic superstores where sales staff with little product knowledge were given rudimentary training and then encouraged to sell easy payment plans and expensive acccessories – the HDMI cable scam where connectors of dubious quality earned more profit and commission than the HiFi systems or plasma TVs they plugged into illustrated how lousy a deal this way of doing business for the customer.
Much of that mentality has been inherited by web2.0 companies that think customer service is an optional extra.
Some of those companies can’t even be bothered protecting their clients’ data properly, such is their unwillingness to provide service.
The stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap self service culture of the 1950s and 60s reached its limits in the 1980s and was only given a reprieve by the easy credit boom of the 1990s. With the end of the credit boom, electronic or household goods stores that simply sell cheap tat on interest free terms at a fat mark up without adding value now struggle.
Gerry Harvey is getting out of electronics partly for this reason – his business model is dead and it’s been difficult for a decade to make the fat profits on consumer computers or electricals without hooking the customers with interest free deals or expensive and pointless accessories or software.
One of the conceits of management through the last part of the Twentieth Century was the mantra “our greatest asset are our people”, today business have to start valuing the skills, knowledge and corporate memory of their workforces.