A Checkup From The Neck-Up On Customer Service

“Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game.”
Tony Alessandra

All too often, I’ll hear someone in customer service say, “I didn’t sign up for this job to be in sales.” Well, I’ve got news for you. Everybody is in sales … the people who are officially in “customer service,” the employees who make the products or deliver the services, and every manager, supervisor, and team leader. Everybody is in sales, and that even includes every spouse and every parent. You’re either pulling in “customers” or driving them away.

Of course, no one is consciously trying to drive their customers away. And no one is actually driving the customer over to the competitor’s shop and saying, “Here, take this customer off my hands. I don’t want him.” But if you exhibit any one of these 6 stinkin attitudes, that is in effect what you are doing.

=> 1. “I’m too busy for customers.”

Just the other day, about mid-afternoon, I walk into the Subway fast-food restaurant near my house to get a sandwich. There are two customers in a booth, but there are no sandwich makers around. After several minutes, a Subway employee emerges from the back, gives me a frustrated look, and greets me by saying, “I can’t get any work done today.”

Now that was news to me! I always thought taking care of customers, making sandwiches, and stuffing cash into the register was her “work.” And come to think of it, I’ll bet that’s what the owner thinks too.

As she is just about to finish my order, two new customers file in, one right behind the other. Now the look on her face is disgust. In a voice loud enough for us all to hear, she says, “It’s been like this all day, one customer after another. How will I ever get to do my work?”

Of course, we can blame the owner for making a poor hiring decision, for not providing enough customer service training, and for leaving her to staff the shop all by herself. And we would probably be right about all those things.

However, I can also assure you that this reaction to the customer as an “interruption to work” is rampant. I see it and overhear it everywhere I go — the gas station, the doctor’s office, the grocery store, the bank, the discount store, and everyplace else.

And I promise you, it occurs in your business as well. Maybe not when you’re around to hear it. Maybe not vocalized. But it’s there. And it undercuts all the marketing you do and steals from every dollar you invest in advertising.

This stinkin attitude #1 is theft … whether or not you see it that way. But it is stealing nonetheless, robbing your bottom line of profit, because it drives customers away.

=> 2. “I know more than my customers.”

Because you’re an expert on your product or service, you may indeed be more knowledgeable than your customers. But there’s danger lurking in this stinkin attitude.

Although you would never intentionally demean or talk down to your customers, if you keep on thinking you know more than your customers, you may sound condescending. And you may make your customers feel ignorant or uncomfortable without even realizing it. And that, of course, will drive them away.

I remember going to see a prospective customer, and one of my associates was going to give the presentation on how our company could help the prospective customer create a more positive working environment for his employees. My associate gave a brilliant presentation on how good our programs are, on our 92% repeat and referral business, and on how our experience is unmatched. But my associate’s eloquent words and good intentions fell on deaf ears, and we didn’t get the contract.

When we left the prospective customer’s office, my associate asked me why we didn’t get the contract. After all, he gave the perfect presentation. My answer was simple … he spent all his time telling the prospective customer how great we are but never asked a key question. He never asked, “What is it you hope to gain from Dr. Zimmerman’s programs?”

My associate presumed he knew more than the customer. So he spent too much time talking and too little time listening.

You see … times have changed. When I was a kid, if you were a “crack salesman,” it meant you were really good at what you did. Today, if you’re a “crack salesman,” it means something entirely different.

And in a similar sense, times have changed in the world of customer service. These days it’s more about asking questions and listening for the customer’s needs and wants than it is talking, convincing, and persuading.

=> 3. “This account is solid.”

You may believe that if you serve your customers well, they’ll automatically turn to you. You simply expect their repeat business.

But let me suggest that no account or no customer is ever “safe.” If you take them for granted with this stinkin attitude, you’re driving your customers into the arms of your competitors.

Kenneth W. Freeman had to break that attitude when he joined Corning Incorporated as the CEO of their North American television glass manufacturing business back in the 1990’s. Corning had been the early leader in developing glass screens for televisions, but its competitors had caught up and were pulling customers away from Corning. The employees in the glass manufacturing plants, however, were very proud of their heritage and their work, even though the customers were complaining.

Faced with extreme resistance, Freeman responded with an extreme initiative of his own. He shut down the factory for nine days and brought in customers to meet with the employees. Freeman encouraged the customers to present the employees with the stark truth — that quality and service had to improve or these customers were through with Corning.

The customers’ in-your-face feedback jolted the employees into facing reality … that no account or no customer is ever “safe” or “solid.” The employees began taking their quality and service problems seriously and were able to fix them.

You certainly want your employees and managers to be proud of their work. Just be careful. There’s a fine line between pride and arrogance. Pride turns into arrogance if you stop listening to your customers, and as I said earlier, that will also drive your customers away.

=> 4. “That customer is small change.”

Yes, some customers are “worth more” than others … financially speaking. But if you adopt this stinkin attitude, that some customers are nothing more than “small change,” your customers will sense it. They’ll feel like unimportant second-class citizens, and that is bound to drive them away.

By contrast, I like the way Gregg Steinhafel, the President of Target, approaches this attitude. He says, “We micromanage and we think and sweat about every little aspect of the guest experience.” In other words, every customer counts.

And I like the way one mortician approached his business. He said, “The best part about being a mortician is that everyone you meet is a prospective customer.”

And I also liked the way one young woman handled it when she was treated like “small change.” In her job hunt, she made an appointment for an interview with a prestigious corporation. While there, she asked if she could get into their well-respected training program. The very busy personnel manager, besieged by applications, said, “Impossible now. Come back in about ten years.” The young lady responded, “Would morning or afternoon be better?”

=> 5. “I don’t have to keep on building relationships with my customers.”

It’s one thing to have a customer buy something from you. It’s another thing to have that same customer trust you, like you, have confidence in you, and feel bonded to you.

Whether you realize it or not, you have a RELATIONSHIP with every one of your customers. It may be a good, strong relationship or it may be a poor, weak relationship. It may be a growing relationship or it may be a dying relationship. But you still have a relationship nonetheless. And if you don’t take care of that relationship, you’ve fallen victim to this fifth stinkin attitude.

I think that’s what happened at one cable company. When Rachel called in to question a rate increase and got a non-feeling, non-caring memorized response from the customer service rep, Rachel asked, “Do you ever feel your soul being sucked away as you try to explain injustices like this to unhappy customers like me?” Fortunately, Rachel’s question awakened the service rep’s humanity as she replied, “Yes, lots of times.”

That’s why I tell my audiences that once you’ve made the sale; your work is only beginning. Now you’ve got a relationship to build.

I’ll never forget one audience member who told me that she didn’t need to attend my workshop. She said, “I already have more than enough customers.” So I challenged her to come and stay ten minutes in my workshop. If it isn’t what she wanted, she could simply slip out of the room and go to a different program. Two hours later, she was still sitting there, taking pages of notes.

Afterwards, I asked what she had been writing. She said, “I realized I have lots of customers, but I’m not doing very much to build relationships with them. And that’s what I’ve got to do now if I want to keep those customers in the future.”

One final thought, if you want to prevent yourself from catching any of these five stinkin attitudes, if you want to keep your customers in the future, you need to get a copy of my new book, “THE SERVICE PAYOFF: How Customer Service Champions Outserve And Outlast The Competition.”

Action:  Take a check-up from the neck-up. Are you guilty of having any of these five stinkin customer service attitudes? If so, what are you going to do about it?