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.

The People Business

I was very fortunate years ago to have a mentor who was also a great salesperson. Whenever someone asked him what business he was in he would answer “the people business.” 

My mentor’s name was Jack and for 40 years he owned a commercial heating and air conditioning company. When asked how he got “people business” out of heating and air conditioning he replied, “simple, my business is about helping other businesses and organizations provide a comfortable and productive working environment for their people.” 

Jack believed that every business and every product was in some way about helping people. He often said that if your product or service didn’t in some way benefit people then you wouldn’t be in business for very long. He taught me to never sell my product, he taught me to sell what it could do for the people who might buy it. 

The moment a business or it’s leadership lose sight of the fact that, regardless of what they sell, they are in the people business their potential for long-term success begins to decline.

If you’re in business, any business, then you are in the people business.

There should never be a policy, process, or procedure that is more important than people. Your people are your business, both the people who work for your business and the people who are served by your business.

Years ago the pilots of the now merged Northwest Airlines went on strike. It was very contentious and both sides, the airlines and the pilots union, starting running ads on local radio to “get their side of the story out.” Basically each side said the other were complete idiots. 

I wasn’t too sure about flying on an airline run by idiots but I was certain I didn’t what to fly on a plane piloted by someone considered to be an idiot by the very airline that hired them. I don’t really know much about the airline business but I do know some stuff about the people business. Something one of the striking pilots said during a radio interview has stuck with me to this day.

The pilot said the airlines whole problem was that they were trying to make customers happy while doing nothing to make their own people happy. He said he believed it impossible to have happy customers if the people tasked with making them happy were unhappy.

I doubt whether that was the airlines “whole problem” but it was absolutely one of the biggest. Northwest Airlines forgot that they were in the people business and they also forgot that their employees were people too.

I believe in measuring pretty much everything a business does, you need a yardstick to see progress and determine opportunities for improvement. However, when your metrics become more important than your customer…or your own people, then you have a problem. Metrics are a guide to success, they are not a bible for success. 

When people are involved in your business you will sometimes need to throw the numbers out to do the right thing and remember, people are always involved in your business.

Put people first and your business will last!