Why Customer Service Is So Bad

If I were King I’d make a rule that whenever Customer Service was written out it would say Customer SERVICE. That rule would also require that when spoken special emphasis would have to be given to the word SERVICE. Maybe they would have to say SERVICE louder or slowly so they would have an extra millisecond to realize what the word SERVICE actually means. 


That assumes of course that you could get them to utter the word service. 


This post is admittedly more of a rant against the ghastly customer service that has been in the news lately but seriously folks a rant seems to be required. It’s required because I know where at least part of that horrific service is coming from. 


Sadly it’s coming from huckster training organizations offering terrible Customer Service training. I see brochures and emails cross my desk constantly offering the latest skills in Handling Customers, on how to “convince your customers they are satisfied.” On how to remove the “baggage” of customer interactions. (by the way the only real way to convince your customers that they are satisfied is to satisfy them)


The tone and word choices of these so called training programs are just atrocious. I absolutely guarantee that if you were to put your people through these programs your customers would notice a difference and that difference will cause them to  become someone else’s customer as soon as they possibly can.


These so called training organizations go to great lengths to avoid using the word SERVICE after the word customer. They strain to come up with any word that can possibly be substituted for that dreaded word which might indicate that the person who PAID YOU MONEY for your product or service is in fact be a very important person. It all seems to be an attempt to dehumanize the customer so dragging them off your damn plane will seem perfectly okay.


Congratulations United, it worked! You received exactly the outcome that you trained and rewarded your people to provide. Sadly, so did your customer. (It should be noted here that United didn’t drag a human being off the plane, they removed a randomly selected seat number. The whole process was completely dehumanized. Or so they thought.)


These programs offer the latest “tricks” for dealing with customers. Well guess what? There are no new tricks because there are no old tricks. If you’re tricking your customer then you’re not SERVING them. Oh and by the way, you don’t “deal” with customers either, you help them, you solve their problems, you SERVE them. 


Any customer service training that doesn’t focus plainly and transparently on SERVING the customer is not worthy to be called Customer SERVICE training. When you see training companies offering junk called “Engineering Customer Experiences,” “Reducing Customer Dissatisfaction,” Low Effort Customer Experiences” or any other buzzword loaded titles, RUN. 


Authentic Customer SERVICE involves truly caring about the customer. It means doing whatever is required to make the situation right for them…and the customer determines what is right. When your customer determines that you have a genuine interest in solving their issue they very very seldom have unreasonable demands. Customers get unreasonable when they determine you are trying to “engineer” their situation, when you are trying to trick them into thinking you’re saying yes when you’re saying no. When your customer figures out you really don’t care and are just trying to make them go away they can get “unreasonable” in a hurry. 


Your poor SERVICE caused that, not the customer.


At the core of horrible customer service is this simple fact. Businesses have forgotten that whatever business they are in they are in the people business first. United Airlines might fly planes but they are in the people business. Cable companies might provide entertainment but that entertainment is created for people. Cable companies have forgotten that they are in the people business. Cell phone companies provide cellular service to people, they too are in the people business. I could go on and on, every business is in the people business in one way or another. 


If you don’t enjoy interacting with your fellow human beings, in any circumstance, then don’t go into business. 


Customers are people and you don’t handle, deal with, trick, fool, ignore, manipulate, or otherwise abuse people. If you’re in business you SERVE them. 


SERVING your customers does not make you a servant, it is not, or should not be, beneath anyone in business. Caring for your customers is not a weakness, it is in fact a tremendous strength. 

We need to put the SERVICE back in customer service. It’s people who put the SERVICE in Customer Service; train your people in basic human relations principles and leave the tricks behind.

Where Money Comes From

If you’re employed by a for-profit business then all your money comes from the same place. The money you spent on dinner last night, the money you use to pay the rent or mortgage, the money you invest in your retirement, that all came from the same place too.

It did not come from the company that employs you. It didn’t come from the boss. It didn’t come from HR and it didn’t come from the payroll department.

All of your money, every penny of it, comes from the customers who CHOOSE to do business with your company. The money you receive in the form of a paycheck is not your company’s money, it is the customer’s money, they simply allow your company to use it. The better the job a business does for their customer, the more money the business is allowed to use.

Businesses that employ people who understand that simply fact are businesses that do well. 

Sometimes businesses and their people get so caught up doing urgent things that they forget what’s truly important, the customer. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should be more important to a business than the customer. 

If you’re a for-profit business then your business cannot afford to be focused on measurements, a process or policy. The focus must be on the customer 100% of the time. Never allow yourself to be fooled into believing what you think is more important than what your customer thinks.

There is no metric, no policy, no spreadsheet and no problem that is more important than meeting and exceeding your customer’s expectations. When you forget that don’t be surprised when your customer forgets you. Measuring, surveying, accounting, and planning are all important to a business, but none of it should ever become more important than a customer.

It’s mere busy work when compared to the one vital task of every business interested in making a profit, meeting and exceeding the needs of the customer. They, the customer, that’s where the money comes from. No business, and no person who works for a business should ever allow themselves to believe that the business exists for them, it exists for the customers.

When you’re too busy to take care of customers don’t worry, that situation will rectify itself soon enough. 

Think about that the next time you’re annoyed by those pesky customers. 


How Customer Service Disappeared

customer-service.0822.12I frequently hear people complain about the lack of customer service. I complain about the same thing. Cell phone and cable companies are my favorite targets. Oh, and let’s not forget the airlines, take your pick, any of the major airlines are easy targets for customer service complaints.

Pretty much everyone I know laments the loss of decent customer service. We all seem to remember a time when people just cared more about “the customer” and their job in general.

I wonder if that’s true? Do people really care less these days?

Do companies just invest less in customer service training? Is it possible that when they do train their people that the training just misses the mark?

I personally don’t think any of that is true. I have a completely different thought. I think it’s a leadership issue. To be more precise, I think it’s a careless leadership issue.

Careless as in there are fewer leaders that truly care about their people today than there has been since the advent of capitalism. Authentic leaders know that if they want their people to care about the customer then they need to FIRST care about their people.

I remember years ago when Northwest Airlines was still in business the pilots went out on strike. The pilot’s union and Northwest management both began running ads in the media stating their case and ripping the other side to shreds. Northwest hinted at the fact that their pilots were greedy idiots without the ability to form a cognitive thought. The pilots said it was the airline that was greedy and that they were cutting corners on maintenance that made the airline unsafe to fly. It was pretty ugly and emotional on both sides.

Then one day a local radio station interviewed one of the pilots. This was a very rational guy who explained how he saw the root cause of almost every problem at the airline.

He said the basic problem was that the airline was using unhappy, unengaged, and disillusioned employees to try and make happy, engaged and loyal customers.

He made a powerful case that it was nearly impossible for a unhappy “service worker” as he called them, to happily service a customer. He said it was normal, and should be expected, that if you’re unhappy you won’t exactly kill yourself trying to make somebody else happy.

I have agreed with and believed that ever since I first heard it.

Which brings us to the state of customer service today.

Today, the disparity in pay between those at the top of a company and those in the company who are most likely to provide service to the company’s customers is greater than it has ever been. The disparity is generally greatest in the cable, cell phone and airline industries. Is that a coincidence?

Executive pay in many cases continue’s to grow at double digit rates while the people in the trenches doing the heavy lifting receive increases of 1-2% on average. If that!

That disparity is easily explained by the relative “importance” of the job. Obviously top executives have a lot more responsibility than a front-line customer service rep. Or do they?

Whether they do or not is almost immaterial for this discussion. Here’s the point, if leaders say or do things that cause their people to feel as if what they do is unimportant they will respond accordingly.

Once a person feels unimportant they will be hard pressed to make someone else, a customer for instance, feel important either.

As leaders continue to build walls between themselves and their people, customer service will continue to decline. I don’t believe the building of walls is intentional, but a wall is a wall. Some of the walls are built with cash and some are built with actions but they are built all the same.

If you’re a leader who wants your people to provide a higher level of service to your customers, then don’t ask what your people can do for your customers. Ask what you can do for your people.