Everyone gets nostalgic for certain elements of days gone-by, in many cases seeing the past through rose-tinted glasses. But history counts for quite a lot in the world of business.  With that in mind, it is worth reviewing what drove customer experience management in the 1980s. Beyond the horrors of disco and the depression of grunge, there were important lessons around CX delivery that offer insight into how enterprise executives and their service partners can drive loyalty in 2024.

  • Competition drove a great consumer experience – the debate over deregulation infused the lives of public debate during the 80s and, to many, the jury is still out. That said, one clear result was that businesses across sectors took competition seriously. To a large extent, businesses focused their products and services not just on affordability, but also around great customer experience. Contrast that with today: mega-consolidation across many sectors has led to less competition. Perhaps this results in less expensive offerings, but it also means pitiful experiences. Customers are complaining like never before.
  • Quality experiences rather than points schemes drove loyalty – ah, the good ol’ days of economy-class air travel that was comfortable and included edible, sometimes even appetizing, meals. Meanwhile, department store were well-lit, decorated in a contemporary manner, and shelves were stocked. Gyms had new and well-maintained equipment. Basically, executives understood that spending a bit of money so that customers truly enjoyed their time would translate into repeat business.  Today the commercial environment instead involves scanning a fob on your keychain to buy groceries, a fast-food meal or a plane ticket. This gets you a few more ‘loyalty points’ that can theoretically be redeemed for a cheaper box of donuts or a free coffee.
  • Professionalism of service – this is a bugbear for so many consumers today, but businesses often got it right in the 80s. Purchasing a power tool, a piece of technology, clothing, or a home appliance meant dealing with someone inside the store, not online. Associates did more than take a model number and arrange shipping – they could provide advice on what was best for the customer’s needs. Often, they were excited to do so!  Recruiting associates with a genuine interest in what they were selling, training them on the best CX techniques, and enforcing service standards was expected four decades ago — and it would go far in driving great CX today.
  • Channel management excellence – granted, the 1980s had just two service channels, the telephone and snail mail. Even so, when a customer took the time to reach out to a business by calling them or sending a letter, the issue or question would be taken seriously. In many cases, a subject-matter expert or individual responsible for the issue would be consulted, then feedback was provided. Sure, it may have taken a bit longer – no one enjoyed waiting for a letter, and hold times while finding the right person could be annoying.  But, there was a much greater level of confidence that a customer’s concern or query would be managed the first time out. This in turn helped drive repeat business.
  • Service accessibility – furthermore, post-sale service took on a whole new meaning in the 80s. Consider that practically every advertisement on television and in print media included a mailing address and /or an 800 number (a toll-free line outside the USA and Canada), usually with the promise of quality service at the other end.  This is not to say in 2024 businesses do not provide contact channel details to their customers – but, the quality of interaction expected (either voice or digital) when attempting to reach a representative is clearly in question, a trend that any guilty consumer-facing organization needs to fix.

Of course, not everything from the 80s was great. Every decade has its ups and downs. Yet, when it came to customer service and defining great experiences for the consumer, the 80s batted above its weight.  In today’s commercial environment, there is much scope for following the formula of ensuring long-term loyalty by way of investing in end-user experience, as opposed to the current race to the bottom. Hoping that end-users gravitate to cheap prices and ignore awful service is a strategy that just won’t win.

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