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.

Calm Seas

I’ve never met a sailor who didn’t prefer sailing on calm seas. Who can blame them, it’s just easier. Everyone likes easy.

But here’s the thing, almost all of us are paid to navigate choppy seas. If you’re in sales this is especially true. Sales by my definition is changing someone’s attitude from neutral or even negative about your product, to a positive attitude. Positive enough to buy your product or service.

Those “seas” of changing someone’s attitude can be very very choppy.

If you’re in any type of customer service role you almost never experience calm seas. Customers seldom call or show up at your counter to tell you everything is perfect. It’s just the opposite, almost 100% of the customers you deal with are unhappy and it’s your job to turn that unhappiness into sheer delight. Sometimes the seas you navigate aren’t only choppy, they are downright hurricane like.

Almost every job and position have challenges. Thank goodness for that. If they were easy, if there were no headwinds, if there were never any problems, a whole lotta people would be out of work.

If customers were convinced your products were always the best and provided the best value then your company wouldn’t need any salespeople. If nothing ever broke then service people would be a thing of the past. If every customer was delighted every single time the role of customer service person would be history.

If there were no problems in business then a whole bunch of businesses would need a lot less people. You would never see the term “problem solver” on a résumé again.

All that being the case I find it amazing how many salespeople dislike having to convince people to buy their products. Service people can get bitter over constantly having to fix things that break. I’ve heard many people in customer service roles say how much easier their jobs would be if the customers would all just go away.

You and everyone else are not paid to sail your organization’s ship on calm seas. You are paid to navigate the rough spots. Your role likely exists in one way or another to solve or overcome problems. The very problems you may complain about from time to time, or maybe even more often than that.

When you stop and think of it like that it doesn’t make much since to complain…does it? So don’t complain! Be thankful for the challenges your job provides you because it’s those challenges that provide your income.

No job is perfect. No job is always easy. Every job has its challenges and that might be the best news you’ll hear all week.

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.

Your Best Investment

The best investment a business can make is an investment in their people. ALL of their people, not only the ones who work for the business but the ones who buy from the business as well.

Most business leaders agree that investing in the development of their people is essential to long-term growth. They see their people as an investment that pays limitless returns. Many of those same business leaders however see their customers as almost an expense. They want more customers but they want them with as little expense attached to them as possible.

When a business sees their customers as an expense they provide the lowest level of service possible without losing the customer. At least that’s their goal.

Businesses that see their customers as an investment do market research to determine what MORE they can do for their customers. Businesses that see their customers as an expense do market research to determine how much LESS they can provide them. Hopefully without losing them.

If you don’t think a business would do that “how much less” type of market research then you have been very lucky in avoiding the need to speak with certain companies that 99% of the population loves to hate. Those companies lead the way in what I would call “negative market research.” They bake a certain amount of customer “churn” into their annual plans with the understanding that’s it is cheaper to lose some customers than it is to invest in them.

If you have a cell phone or cable TV for instance you likely understand exactly what I’m talking about.

If you run a company and you see your customers as an expense then your customers will one day see you as a company too expensive to do business with.

Good companies invest in their customers, better companies invest in their people, great companies invest in both.

Providing consistently excellent service isn’t hard. But it takes constant effort and a realization that you’re never “there.” Even if the majority of your people see your customers as an investment if you have just one or two who don’t, the customers will find them. It’s almost like magic…in a bad way.

Are you investing in your people? All of your people? If not you’re missing an opportunity to grow your business at a much faster rate than you probably are today.

Invest in all of your people, it’s truly the best investment you can make.

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.

The Only Mission Statement Your Business Needs

I’m perfectly fine with mission statements filled with flowery words and important sounding messages. I’ve even helped write some and I’ve used them to great effect in sales presentations. They make people feel like their business, and the role they play in it is important… and it probably is. 

 

But if your organization’s mission statement does not include the words “we exist to serve our customers” then it’s missing the true purpose of your business.

 

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, your purpose must be to serve your customers. That’s all that matters. That’s ALL that matters. 

 

You can sugarcoat coat it and pussyfoot around your purpose forever but your purpose in business is to serve a customer. Everything else you might say in your mission statement is a distraction. 

 

If you want to add how you’ll serve your customer or how you’ll determine that your customer has indeed been served that’s terrific as well. But SERVING your customer must be at the center of your mission statement. 

 

No only must it be at the center of your mission statement it MUST be at the center of every customer interaction. When you or anyone in your organization forgets, even for a moment, that the purpose of your business is to serve a customer bad things happen. It’s very likely that your customer will also forget something. It could be your phone number, your address or why they ever did business with you in the first place. 

 

If you’re in business to make money then you must know that the best way to do that is to serve your customers. You can’t buy customer loyalty with a low price. Customer loyalty can only be acquired through highly valued service. Yes, it is possible to make a profit, for a while, without serving your customers. The only way however to make a sustainable profit, over the long haul, is to serve your customers. 

 

Do not spiff up your mission statement with so much “stuff” that your actual mission is hidden from your customers or your employees. The only mission statement your business needs will sound a lot like this: “We exist to serve our customers in the manner that they desire.” 

 

There are plenty of others ways to explain everything else you’re tempted to dump into your mission statement… don’t do it. 


Keep your focus on your customer and your customer will keep their focus on you. 

Unfortunately is More Than a Word

Unfortunately! It’s more than a word, it’s a signal. It’s a signal that whatever follows is sure to be bad. When you’re on the phone with a customer service representative the last thing you want to hear is the dreaded “unfortunately.” You know full well that shortly after unfortunately you’re going to hear the even more dreaded “can’t.”

 

Never tell someone what you can’t do, tell them what you can do. For example, if a friend asks you to help them move on Friday but you can only help them on Saturday then don’t say I can’t help on Friday but I can on Saturday. Just say you can help on Saturday. The psychological difference is huge.

 

“Can’t” gets burned into their memory… You become the person or company who can’t. We think differently about people who can’t and we certainly don’t buy from or do business with people who can’t. 

 

Think about every time you’ve heard the word unfortunately. How many times has it been followed with “you’ve won the lottery?” I’m betting not once!

 

There are a lot of words we would be better off just leaving out of our vocabulary; but, never, and always are just a few. Unfortunately is another one. 

 

Unfortunately is like chewing on an old dirty sock, it may not kill you but it sure leaves a bad taste in your mouth. 

 

If you are in any type of customer service role…I shouldn’t have to say this but somehow I fill compelled; if you are in business or work for a business, regardless of your title, role or job description, YOU DO HAVE A CUSTOMER SERVICE ROLE… do everything you can to avoid using the word unfortunately. 

 

No matter how positive the statement is that you make after using that unfortunate word it will seem like a negative to the person on the receiving end. 


Fortunately with a little forethought you can almost entirely eliminate unfortunately from your vocabulary.  Choices matter, even the choice of the words we use each day. Choose well!