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Whatcha Want?! We’re Busy!

July 18th, 2016 | No Comments

What is customer service? I’d like to say “good” customer service, but it wouldn’t be customer service if it wasn’t “good.” “Bad” customer service is really no customer service at all, so let’s dispense with the adjectives and define exactly what customer service is.

Customer service is critical to your business. It is essentially a reflection of your good will, and your business is worth nothing if you don’t have good will. About a year ago, I was waiting in line at a bicycle shop when one of the employees at the register answered the telephone, “Whatcha want?! We’re busy!” Of course, it could have been his wife, teenage child or a bill collector. It didn’t matter. With these few words this employee destroyed good will in the eyes of anyone who was within earshot.

Every interaction you have with your customers is an opportunity to enhance or destroy your good will. This is where most companies fail. Wall Street’s obsession with ever increasing profits at the expense of everything else has consequences, and customer service almost always is a casualty. Here’s what so many companies do and why it’s wrong.

Telephone Decision Trees

I don’t know anyone who likes telephone decision trees. You know, “Press 1 if you want to speak to sales. Press 2 for technical support,” etc. One level is okay. It’s understandable that a company needs to route customers to the right departments, but I’ve experienced decision trees with as many as four levels. These levels might make your organization more efficient but each successive level becomes more impersonal and separates you further from your customers.

Your customers want to feel as though you care personally about their needs. How your business responds to your customers when they contact you for assistance tells them everything they need to know about you. Really. It’s as simple as that.


One business owner recently lamented to me, “I don’t like (my current vendor) because I never know who to call. I have to try different departments. Their employees don’t know where to send me. I have to make several calls. No one takes responsibility. There’s no ownership. It’s frustrating.” Sound familiar?

Your customer understands that in order to deliver your products and services you have to organize your business into departments and specialties, but your organization shouldn’t be an impediment to customer service and satisfaction. If your customer has to navigate your bureaucracy, then your business is backward. Which leads me to:

The Tail or The Dog?

Some companies act as if it is you that should be thankful they are doing business with you. Telephone and utility companies were notorious for this in the latter half of the twentieth century. They’ve been supplanted by cable companies, but I’ve come to experience this more often with companies in a whole variety of industries. These companies have come to take their customers for granted, but unlike utility and cable companies, these companies don’t have natural monopolies.

Being Considerate

A few weeks back, I put my trash and yard waste at the end of my driveway around 7:30 in the morning. It was my understanding that the city did not allow the garbage service to begin until 8am, so I thought I had plenty of time to spare, but I didn’t. When I came home later that evening I arrived to find a flyer on my garbage can and all four bags of yard waste still intact at the end of the driveway. The flyer was a friendly reminder that yard waste should be at the curb by 7:00am, but the driver underlined “Please have EVERYTHING ready for pick up by 7:00 AM” and then he scrawled “I was here already this morning!” in a bright red marker, apostrophe included.

There is an old adage often repeated that “the customer is always right.” This is not exactly accurate. Sometimes the customer is wrong, but there’s no need to scold them when they are. What does that accomplish, after all? Does it build good will?

Going Beyond Competence

Companies often make the mistake of putting the least experienced and least knowledgeable employees in customer service. I’ve experienced calls where the representative had issues with their communications equipment, they couldn’t speak so that I could understand them, or they were too unfamiliar with their employer’s business to provide any direction.

Competence is the starting point, but to really deliver a quality customer experience, you need to take ownership to solve the customer’s problem. This is where most companies fail. Many companies simply transfer your call to another department which is sometimes not the department you should have been transferred to.

Some companies do “walk you to the next department” by staying on the line until they introduce you to that department and complete the hand-off. They could take it one step further and deliver the best customer experience. The initial customer service contact could stay on the line until your issue had been resolved, and then close by saying, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Taking Responsibility

I once hired an attorney who folded under pressure when it turned out the case was more difficult than he had bargained for. His work was of such poor quality that neither the opposing side nor the judge addressed him directly, preferring to address me instead. They knew who the big dog in the room was, and it wasn’t him. They read him, and they knew he was a no-op. I may as well have been alone. Unfortunately, I did not realize this until we lost the case, a few years had passed, and I had time to reflect.

If the problem is money, then don’t take the deal and have regrets. If something has changed talk to your customer. Your customer assumes you want their business and that you’ll act accordingly. They expect that you’ll give them 100%. Anything less will be dissatisfying.

Informed Decisions

The United States Postal Service has been the subject of much scorn and ridicule in recent years. It is often seen as the embodiment of an old stodgy government bureaucracy or company that’s been disrupted but doesn’t know it yet. There is, however, one thing they do better than anyone: they fully disclose all options to their customers. Without fail, postal employees will always check to see if there is a less expensive option. They will give you all of the options and let you decide what is in your best interest.

Your customers are intelligent human beings. It is important to fully disclose all relevant facts to your clients. Doing this not only empowers your customers, but it also provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity and the depth of your knowledge. No one wants to look stupid, and you won’t if you give your customers the information they need to make an informed decision. Doing this will enhance your good will.

Closing the Loop

I recently asked my son if he had completed something I had asked him to do. “You keep asking me that,” he replied. “Yes, and you never follow-up to tell me it has been done.” “Don’t you have any faith in me?” he asked. “You’re missing the point. Until you come back to me to report that it has been done I am living in a world of uncertainty.”

I realized at that moment that what I was describing was something I learned early on that my customers yearned for but rarely received: follow-up and closure. Systems don’t always work. An application sent to a carrier is not recorded. Something is overlooked. An ID card doesn’t get sent out. Sometimes things just get dropped or fall through the cracks. It happens in business every day.

It’s easy just to send in the information and assume that everything will take care of itself especially when the system works so well so often, but that’s a lazy and dangerous perspective. All it takes is one failure, and – Voila! – you’ve created the perception that your system failed. Remember the old adage if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem?

This can easily be remedied with discipline and an inexpensive customer relationship management system. Yet, it is the rare company that understands this.

Going to the Nth Degree

An employer hired me last year to clean up a mess their previous health insurance broker had created. The broker had advised the employer to change carriers, provided them with the applications, and then let the employer figure out how to navigate the application process. Unfamiliar with the process, the employer struggled to provide the required information in a timely manner.

Deadlines were missed because the broker did not walk the employer through the process to make sure the application was complete before it was submitted. The broker did not provide the employer with necessary paperwork to cancel the old policy, so the employer had double coverage for one month. The broker blamed everyone but himself, washing his hands of the whole mess.

The broker was, no doubt, focused on the next sale and not on the needs of his current client. He took this client for granted and didn’t do what he needed to do to make sure everything went according to plan.

The Human Touch

The concierge is becoming a rare position in today’s world. I recently attended a conference at a hotel that lacked one. When I inquired at the front desk about ground transportation I was referred to a third party service. Although I had no trouble making the arrangements myself I left the hotel feeling dissatisfied with the experience.

It hit me on the way home. Technology has made information more accessible, perhaps obviating the need for someone like the concierge. But, even with all of the new technology making things more efficient and information more accessible, clients still yearn for something that only people can provide: the human touch.

Technology cannot provide the emotional satisfaction that everyone yearns for. Caring and personalized attention. All of the things I described above are the hallmarks of outstanding customer service, and it is the only way your business creates good will.

If you’re looking for a better customer service experience and would like to learn more about how we deliver outstanding experiences to our clients, email me at mdmowski@comprehensivebenefitservices.com or call me at (952) 237-6956.

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