Customer Deflections

Companies spend tons of money to attract customers. They invest a small fortune to train their salespeople to professionally represent their products. (At least the good ones do) They hire people to provide service to those customers after the salespeople earn their business. 

The best salespeople “sell” that customer service as a benefit of doing business with their company. 

Those things have always been pretty much standard business practice. Finding new customers and earning their repeat business has always been considered a good investment for a company.

But today some companies are developing something like a split personality. While they continue to invest in attracting new customers they are beginning to see retaining those customers as an expense. 

As we all know well run companies look for new ways to reduce expenses at every opportunity. That’s not the problem…the problem is seeing customer service as one of those expenses to be cut.

Some companies are investing in research to determine an acceptable level of customer intolerance. That means they are trying to figure out just how crummy their customer service can be without losing their customers. Providing a higher level of customer service than the company absolutely has to is considered waste. 

Those same companies send their people to training but not to learn how to better serve their customers. The training is on how to “deflect” customers away from the customer service department. “Progressive” customer service departments “deflect” customers to ChatBots or websites. Sometimes even into an endless loop of holds and transfers. 

This might be upsetting to the customer but just so long as the customer’s intolerance level isn’t exceeded all is well. The customer might not agree. They likely believe they deserve better. 

Some service organizations are actually showing reports with the number of customers they “successfully” deflect each month. I pity the poor salesperson who works their tail off only to have their customers “deflected” to some ChatBot. 

Can you tell I’m a little irritated with this new way of thinking? One thing I can say with a very high degree of confidence is that this will never become an old way of thinking. That’s because companies who adopt it won’t be around for long. 

The consultant who “sold” these companies on the word “deflect” should be embarrassed. 

The word should be banned in any conversation that involves a customer.

Words matter. When a customer care manager tells their team they are trying to deflect customers the signal it sends is completely wrong. It negatively affects even the calls that are accepted. The calls tend to be shorter, more abrupt and less helpful. The goal becomes to get the customer off the phone as soon as possible.

Here’s a couple of questions for companies who have adopted this “deflection” strategy. Do you think your customers would like knowing they are being deflected? Are you willing to show your customers the charts and graphs about how many of them you “successfully” deflected?

Remember if you have to hide information from your customers then you may have an ethics problem. 

Companies that invest in technology to help them deflect customers see it as improving their bottom line. I look at it as decreasing their integrity. That’s because their salespeople are still trying to sell excellent customer service as a benefit. Except excellent customer service has become a mirage.

I’ve never seen a stupid customer in my life and if you’re honest neither have you. They may have been misinformed or misunderstood something but that doesn’t make them stupid. They will eventually figure the goal is to “deflect” them and they will respond exactly the way we all would. 

There are still plenty of companies that have no plans to deflect their customers away from their human customer care teams. The customers who experience being “deflected” will find one of them. Then companies that deflect won’t have to worry about the “expense” of having those customers anymore.

The Customer is Always Right

There is an excellent Grocery Store chain in the Northeastern United States. It’s called Stew Leonard’s. In the grocery business there is formula that determines the retail volume you should expect given the square footage of your space. The bigger the store the more retail volume…seems pretty basic. 

Except Stew Leonard’s has always been known to blow past that formula. In theory they should not be able to sell as much as they do given the size of their stores. 

But their most basic business principle has always been, “The Customer is Always Right.”

That principle is so important that they have it etched into a three-ton granite rock that is placed near the entrance to their store. It also includes an equally important second principle, or rule if you will. 

On the rock you’ll see: “Our Policy – Rule 1: The customer is always right! Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1!”

Now that’s kinda nice in principle but we all know in real life it’s a bunch of bull. Except it’s not. Not for the most customer centric businesses anyway. 

When I do Customer Service training I’ll begin by asking the groups about their roles as customer service representatives. I want to know what they think their job is. I get all the usual answers and for the most part they are pretty accurate. 

But I have never gotten the one answer I’m looking for. The answer I’m most looking for is this: “to make the customer right.” 

When everyone, not just customer service people, but everyone in an organization sees their fundamental responsibility as “making the customer right” you’ll have customers beating a path to your door. 

Making the customer right can sometimes mean influencing an often emotional customer to think differently about the situation. Sometimes it can mean adjusting your organization’s policy on the fly. Sometimes it can just mean changing your way of thinking… actually it will almost always mean changing your way of thinking. 

It means changing your way of thinking from “how can I show this customer they are wrong to how can I make this customer right.” It means changing our mentality to one of “winning” a dispute with a customer to one of winning the customer for life. 

Making the customer right can sometimes seem impossible. Sometimes the customer doesn’t exactly motivate us to want to help them be right. But seeming impossible is not the same as being impossible. It is also not the customer’s responsibility to motivate us to help them. 

Of this I am certain; if you do not always put the customer first in your business then you run the risk of becoming the last place they want to do business with. 

That doesn’t seem to be worth the risk to me so never forget rule #1, the customer is always right…even if you have to work some magic to make it so!

The Death of Customer Service

I’ve written about this topic before but “new” concepts in Customer Service keep popping up so I have to keep smacking them down.

One of the newest says that customers aren’t really customers….they are personas that have to be “dealt with.”

Wow, that really sounds like the right mindset for providing decent customer service to the people who buy your products so that you can stay in business so that you can feed your family and have a roof over your head.

Those “personas” are the people who pay for everything a business AND their employees own. When a company forgets that the customers, those pesky people who the company exists to serve, tend to go away.

And go away is exactly what they should do!

If you are in business then you are in the people business. If you refuse to acknowledge people are human beings and insist on calling them baggage, personas, problem causers, or whatever else you want to call them you’ll be out of business soon enough. The sad thing is how many people you’ll have frustrated along the way.

If you’re in business stop throwing money away on the latest Customer Service fad. Start treating your customers with the same decency and respect that you expect when you’re a customer.

It’s really that easy. Remember, you are in business to serve your customer. You are in business to help your customers. You are in business to solve problems for your customers. Are you getting this yet…you are in business for your customer’s benefit.

Your business is ALL ABOUT your customers.

Yes, you need to make money but if that’s your primary focus you can’t last. If you treat customers, every customer, with dignity and respect they will tell people about it. Those people will beat a path to your door. You will be making more money than you ever imagined.

You cannot go wrong taking care, showing care, and truly caring for your customer.

If some “professional” Customer Service Training Company tries to sell you or your company on the latest “fad” in customer service don’t even talk to them unless the customer, the real customers who keep your business in business, is at the center of that training.

If that so called training company calls a customer by any name other than customer you don’t need that kind of help. A customer by any other name will not feel valued the way they should.

Your people don’t need tricks, fads, or buzz words to help your customers. They need Human Relations Skills, also known as People Skills, because if you’re in business then you’re in the people business.

The day you forget that isn’t only the day your Customer Service dies, it’s also the day you start going out of business.

You Haven’t and You Won’t Because You Can’t

Almost every business professes at least the desire to provide the highest caliber of customer service possible.

They name their customer support departments things like customer “care.” They talk about improving the customer “experience” all while failing to invest in the people who might actually care for those customers. The people who work for that business that professes the desire to “care” for their customers.

If you’re running a business that professes the desire to provide your customers with excellent customer service then you need to know that if you’re not caring for your own employees then you can’t provide a high level of service to your customers.

And if you’re not currently providing your employees with the tools and training they need to take care of your customers then you won’t be providing a high level of customer service anytime soon.

You can’t provide a high level of customer service if your employees feel undervalued, under appreciated and unprepared for the task.

I maybe haven’t said this in like an hour so let me repeat it. 100% of your employees are people. By an amazing coincidence 100% of your customers are people too. If your employees are unhappy and feel unsupported then you can bet your last dollar that your customers will be too.

If that situation persists you’ll be down to that last dollar a lot sooner than you think.

You simply cannot create happy customers by placing them in contact with unhappy employees. The fastest way to create an unhappy employee is by trying to manage them instead of leading them.

When I ask the owner of a business about their people I listen for how they describe them. When I hear a bunch of buzzwords like “our team members” or our “guest support staff” or my personal favorite “customer experience managers” I start to be concerned.

What I’m hoping to hear is about the PEOPLE of the organization. A solid, firm unmistakable understanding that the people who are expected to create happy customers are human beings. Human beings who have stuff going on in their life outside of work. Human beings who have goals and hopes and dreams just like a real person.

Human beings who need to be led because trying to manage another human being causes nothing but problems for the manager trying to manage them. You have not and you will not have a fully productive and engaged human being working for you if you’re trying to manage them instead of lead them. Because you can’t manage a human being. It’s just not possible.

Stop trying to create a great customer service department and start creating a great customer service culture. That culture begins with happy, supported and valued employees. That culture is only possible if you lead your people rather than manage them.

I’ll write a lot in the coming weeks on the difference between managing people and leading them. In the meantime consider investing less in the latest “new thing” in customer service. Invest instead in your people because only people have the ability to truly care for another person…like your customers for instance.

Customer Relationships

I recently was asked by a business if I could help them determine the strength of the organization’s relationships with their customers. 

 

I said yes and then told them I could tell them the strength of those relationships immediately. They seemed puzzled until I told them their customers didn’t have a relationship with the organization. 

 

I could say that because no customer, not ever, has had an actual relationship, in the truest sense of the word, with a business or organization. Human beings only have real relationships with other human beings. (and pets of course) 

 

Businesses that think otherwise do so at their own risk. Successful businesses understand that customers only build relationships with people.  

 

That’s just one reason, albeit a major one, why organizations must take care of their employees. If you’re running a business then you must understand that you cannot have solid customer relationships when your employee relationships are nonexistent. 

 

Businesses that have a philosophy that says employees are interchangeable likes parts of a machine believe that the business “owns” the customer relationship. They believe that their people don’t matter. It’s a “organization first” philosophy. 

 

That philosophy shows itself in many ways. The quality of the product or service the company offers is reflected in that “organization first” thinking. The quality of customer service in an “organization first” business is always substandard. 

 

Turnover and recruiting expenses are often through the roof in an “organization first” company. So by the way is customer turnover. 

 

You will never, and yes I know never is a very strong word but I’m using it anyway. You will never find an organization that is decades old or even older that has an “organization first” philosophy. 

 

Those companies that have survived in good times and bad have a “people first” philosophy. They invest in their people. They build strong relationships with their people. They help their people grow. They know it’s their people who will build those vital relationships with their customers. 

 

If you’re running a business today don’t bother investing a dime to determine the strength of your customer relationships until you’re certain of the strength of the relationships with your own people. 


Building relationships with your people leads to your people building relationships with your customers. It’s the only way to sustain and grow your business.

Care for Your Customer

I always enjoy watching marketing people, well good marketing people, talk about their products. They have a passion for them and if they are truly good at what they do it’s safe to say they actually love their products. It’s like their baby!

 

I’m especially interested in how they talk about their products to salespeople. They want the people selling their product to love it as much as they do. That’s where I’m pretty different from most marketers. 

 

I don’t want salespeople to love their products; I want them to love their customers. Don’t get me wrong, I want salespeople to believe in their products enough to represent them with integrity. I want them to understand the value those products bring to their customers. I need them to understand how their products solve a customer’s issue. I literally want salespeople to feel it’s an honor to sell their products to people who will benefit from them. 

 

But for long-term very successful salespeople it’s not the product they are most passionate about; it is their customers. More specifically, they are passionate about helping their customers. They care enough for their customers to help them identify their greatest areas of need. Then they work to figure out if they have a product or service that can address that need. 

 

Notice that I didn’t say that they care “about” their customer. Every business and salesperson cares about their customers. What I said was that long-term successful salespeople, and businesses for that matter, care “for” their customers. There is a big difference between caring about and caring for. 

 

Today Customer “Care”  has become something of a buzzword. Many Customer Service Departments are now called Customer “Care” departments. For many of those service departments the name was the only thing that changed. 

 

“Care” is much better as a verb. Some people use it as a noun but successful people, successful salespeople, successful leaders, and successful organizations use it as a verb. 

 

A verb, for those of you struggling to recall your days in English class, refers to an action. It will always be better to show people and customers that you care than it will be to tell them. I’m betting some of you are telling yourself right now that you care. I’ll bet some of you are reasonably sure other people know you care. I’ll also bet that many of you are hoping people, and your customers know you care. 


Don’t bet, don’t hope and don’t assume. Turn “Care” into a verb today and show someone, a loved one, a special co-worker or even a customer how much you truly care. It’s good business sense and it’s great people skills. So do it today!


Customers are People Too

In many industries customers often become more than customers. They become friends. Not necessarily the kind you would invite to non-business gatherings, but people you truly care about and who care about you.

 

You may think you are in the business of selling or manufacturing stuff, but you are not. Even if your products are sold only to other businesses, the business doesn’t make the buying decision. A person does. You are in the people business. Learning to show people that they are important and cared about will help you make both the initial sale and long-term sales over the course of time.

 

No matter what you sell, every customer should receive your best service during the sales process and after. That service should be delivered in a way that shows you care about the customer. 


Good salespeople listen far more than they talk. They ask meaningful questions and then listen. The best salespeople even take notes. 

 

A Minneapolis business legend, Harvey Mackay, has a long list of information he requires his salespeople to gather about customers. This includes not only information required to do business, but a few personal details such as birthdays, whether or not they’re married, children’s names, and whether or not they have pets. That information is used to make contacts and to start conversations with customers after the initial sale.

 

It also helps the salesperson…and customer, develop a relationship beyond the sale. It’s far easier to do business with people you know than it is to do business with someone who shows up to peddle something every once on a while. 

 

People like to do business with people who are like them. People who demonstrate that they care about them beyond making the sale. People who keep them in mind when something new that might be of interest to them pops up. They come to rely on businesses and salespeople they know they can trust to have their needs and interests at heart.

 

Here is the real trick to building real, long lasting relationships – there is no trick. You need to understand that you can’t build a relationship with a business or an organization. You can only build relationships with other people. 

 

Even the biggest companies and organizations are nothing more than a group of people. Real people. People who value real relationships with other people. Even salespeople. 

 

To build a real relationship you must have the other person’s interests at heart. If you do not, they will eventually figure that out and you will become just another product peddler that they will try to avoid.

 

Customers are people too. Never forget that simple, too often forgotten fact because you do so at your own peril. 


One more thought….if you’re a Sales Manager or a business leader who expects your people to build relationships with your customers then you should know that your people are unlikely to build those relationships unless you have built one with your people first.