Five real friends. All are world-renowned authors, speakers, trainers, coaches
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Why Is Customer Service So Bad At Most Places?

By The Five Friends
Sep 2nd, 2014

From Scott McKain:


Customer service is bad at most places, because evidently that is what CEO’s and managers want. What other reason could there be for them to accept such miserable performance?

Most care more about selling than serving. We know that when sales decline, companies will buy ads, offer new customers better deals than existing ones, deliver training, hold major events, and take any number of extraordinary measures to pump up revenue. They are passionate and precise about customer acquisition — but reserved and reticent about customer retention.

Here’s evidence: most companies have annual sales rallies – how many have one every year for customer service?

Educated and cared-for employees should be prepared to deliver “Ultimate Customer Experiences ®” to everyone spending money with you. In turn, these customers replicate their purchases, and refer you to their friends and colleagues. Your business grows.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

If everybody – from front line employees, to entrepreneurs, to major corporate executives – would create experiences so compelling to customers that their loyalty becomes assured, organizations would experience enhanced levels of both acquisition and retention.

Yet, if it’s not the priority of the leadership or owners – why should the folks on the front line get excited about it?

To find out more about Scott McKain, go to: www.ScottMcKain.com

From Larry Winget:


Customer service is bad because we allow it to be bad. What do you do when you get bad service? Tell the truth. Most do nothing. Most people simply don’t have the cojones to speak up when they get bad service. They don’t tell the person delivering it. They don’t ask for a manager. They don’t leave an online review. At most, they might – maybe – possibly (though probably not) stop shopping with that business.

If you aren’t willing to speak up, then you are an accessory to the crime. You have allowed a crime to happen and stayed silent about it. Shame on you. You owe it to yourself, the next shopper and to the company to speak up in an effort to make things better in the future. You can’t ignore bad service and expect it to get better. Behavior that is ignored will be repeated. It’s a law. Write it down.

Next time you get bad service, speak up. Remember: it’s your money you are defending – money you worked hard for. Tell the company and others. Use the internet and social media. That’s how customer service will improve for all of us.

Larry Winget, the Pitbull of Personal Development®, is a six-time NYT/WSJ bestselling author, social commentator and appears regularly on many national television news shows. To find out more, go to www.LarryWinget.com.

From Mark Sanborn:


Larry makes a great point about the customer’s culpability in enabling bad customer service. Here is the employer’s role:

1. Customer service isn’t taught. No matter how motivated an employee is, they can’t perform a job without the right skills. (And don’t confuse “smile and grin” training with true customer service training. There is more to great service than simply “being nice.”)

2. It isn’t rewarded. Most organizations pay no more attention to those who provide great service than those who don’t. As the old adage goes, what gets rewarded gets done. The corollary is what doesn’t get rewarded usually stops being done.

3. It isn’t required. If delivering extraordinary service isn’t part of the job description, don’t be surprised when you don’t get it and get push back when you “request” it. Great service shouldn’t be an option.

Require your team to provide great service. Just make sure you teach them how and reward them appropriately when they do.

Mark Sanborn is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio for leadership development. He is an award-winning speaker bestselling author of books including, The Fred Factor. For more information and free resources, visit www.marksanborn.com.

From Joe Calloway:


At 90+% of the places I do business, customer service runs from good to absolutely great. I travel a lot, and renting a car used to be torture. Now I hit about 4 clicks on the rental website, get to the airport, walk into the lot and pick any car I want (I tend to rent from National), and drive away. I recently returned some hiking boots I’d worn for a while to REI (I wasn’t happy with the fit.) They smiled, got a salesperson to help me with another pair, and I was on my way. The kids working at Chik-fil-A are friendly, efficient, and the chicken is good. Amazon Prime is one button to buy and ships in two days. Zappos service is legend. My car dealer loans me a new car to use when I get mine serviced.

“But wait! You aren’t going to the places with bad service!”

Exactly. Read Larry Winget’s post on this. If I get bad service, I fire them. I don’t go back and I tell them why and they don’t get my money any more. Lousy service happens when customers let them get away with it.

Joe Calloway helps great companies get even better. www.JoeCalloway.com

From Randy Pennington:


My friends are correct – service is bad because leaders want and/or allow it.

From my experience, this leadership failure is rooted in one critical idea: Companies with bad service view it as a cost to be managed rather than an investment that creates a competitive advantage.

This view will never be acknowledged. In fact, most companies say that they strive for service excellence. Words are not action, however. Focus on these three areas if you want to make service your competitive advantage:

1. People: Who do you hire? How are they trained, compensated, and rewarded? Do your front-line leaders develop them and provide a great environment in which to work? Who is promoted, and who is fired?

2. Process: Is every process clearly defined, documented, and communicated? Are your processes designed to deliver the best possible result for the customer or the least expensive result for the company? Do you continually evaluate and update processes to stay current and relevant?

3. Tools: Do your people have the resources and information they need to succeed? Are they empowered to actually use the tools at their disposal?

Stop managing service as a cost. Start leading it as an investment.

Randy Pennington helps leaders deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To find out more, go to www.penningtongroup.com.

17 Responses to “Why Is Customer Service So Bad At Most Places?”

  1. Heather M says:

    Great article! All of you make excellent points. What really stokes me is what I call the “crack sales method” – that companies incentivize new customers with low rates, and once you are a loyal customer, the prices go up. Isn’t this exactly the same sales method that drug dealers use? (I have never bought drugs, so forgive my stupidity if I’m wrong.)

    Unfortunately, in some industries, like telecom, depending where you live, there are not a lot of options to jump to when dissatisfied. And, speaking up about bad service often takes several days, and several escalations. I recently escalated all the way up at my telecom provider, asking them whether they value customer loyalty or not, because I was paying more than 3 times as much as new customers, and sick of it. They did dramatically lower my rate, but only because I did not give up.

    I’d love to see customer loyalty rule the day again, and make it a lot less fatiguing to be loyal.

  2. Pat Mussieux says:

    I am really loving this blog approach – with all of you expressing your P.O.V. – and Larry, I totally agree with you. Lately, I have been very conscious when dining out at how often I am returning food – for being cold or lukewarm, or not the way I ordered it (buttered toast when I ask for dry toast, etc.) – and watch the people with me squirm when I do this. They are so uncomfortable. It’s amazing to me how we have become a nation of tolerant and dishonest consumers. Thanks for your opinion – I’m with you!

  3. Michael Webb says:

    All of you are right. Leaders that talk a good game, i.e., “our people are our most important assets.” but don’t follow through with the investment in training don’t get repeat business. As an example from my most recent experience, have you been to McDonald’s lately? Pitiful service!

    Speak up. Tell the truth, if it’s bad service, say so, if it’s great service, tell them. Silence is the harbinger of mediocrity!

    Michael W.

  4. Sharon O'Day says:

    I called my car insurer the other day to ask if we couldn’t do something about my ever-climbing premiums. I had shopped the exact same coverage elsewhere and their quotes were $600+/yr lower. I’ve had two cars insured with my insurer for over 14 years, one car for the whole 14 years, so imagine its value. I’ve never had a single accident or claim. Truth is, I’ve actually paid for a new car with my accumulated premiums (Florida premiums are very high). I was told I could pay $80 to take a safe-driving course and lower my annual premium by $50 … but there was nothing else they could do. I told them there was something I could do: cancel my policies and share my story at every opportunity. I guess they’d rather spend more money on advertising with the gecko than hold a loyal client.

  5. Greg Nullet says:

    Dear Mark: “Larry makes a great point about the customer’s culpability in enabling bad customer service.” Not really. His bit is a good rhetorical flourish, but I haven’t allowed a crime to happen nor do I owe it to the company to speak up. Shame on me? I’m just not feeling it.
    Scott McKain manages to slip in a plug for his trademark on part of the English language. That’s worth protesting. Ultimate Customer Experiences, I wonder if it’s Tactical, Extreme and Digital as well.
    Joe Callaway seems to have a handle on the problem, and a good attitude to boot.

    • Larry Winget says:

      Greg, thanks for your input. You have replied to my blog, not Mark’s, but I did forward your response to Mark for him to read. By the way, my portion of this blog is about doing the right thing 1) for yourself by speaking up for your rights and for your money, 2) doing the right thing for the company so they can learn from their mistake and take steps to correct the problem in order to make customers happy and stay in business and 3) doing the right thing for future customers so they won’t have the same bad experience you have had. It’s a position based in personal responsibility that benefits everyone. However,you don’t agree. You’re just not feeling it. That’s fine. I never expect everybody to agree with me and would disappointed if they all did. As for Scott trademarking a part of the English language; I am not sure how you would or could protest it. Do you not understand that you can trademark words that are put in a certain order? It’s done every day by companies. For instance: “Let’s get ready to rumble”, “Yup!” and even “Super Bowl” are all trademarked phrases. And trademarking phrases is done regularly by speakers and authors to protect their intellectual property. Folks like the five of us here, make our living from words being put in a certain order and we have the right legally to protect those words in order to protect our incomes, our brands and our financial security. Each one of the five of us have trademarked a part of the English language. I have several trademarks myself, including “Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get A Life” which seems to sum up my position perfectly here. All the best. Larry Winget

    • Mark Sanborn says:

      Hi Greg,

      Thanks for responding to our five friends blog.

      I still agree with Larry: just as we get the government we vote for we get the customer service we accept. When we give service providers feedback about what we want, need and are willing to pay for, they either take the hint or we can choose to take our business elsewhere.

      There are many variation of this phrase: “acceptance is approval.” Or “acceptance is consent.” Lacking feedback from customers, a service provider has little reason to change.

      Hope you’ll continue to read these different perspectives in the months ahead.


  6. Dee says:

    I get tired of poor customer service. I am just a regular person working from home and not someone recognizable. I drive an average car, so I guess people just think I do not warrant being treated as someone special.
    But I AM special. Not because I am famous or anything like that. I am special because I chose THEIR establishment to shop at / eat at, and therefore I should be treated as if I am royalty (okay, that may be going a little TOO far). MY money is as good as the next person’s and every dollar I spend should be appreciated, for without MY and everyone elses dollars there will be NO business.
    I patronise a local Wendy’s fast food establishment, and one of the young women there who is regularly on the drive-thru counter is absolutely amazing. It saddens me that I am not able to ‘head hunt’ her as she would be an absolute asset to any customer service-oriented business.
    Chick-Fil-A has amazing customer service. All of their staff are incredibly friendly and helpful, and no matter how much adjustment you want to make to your order, they are always happy to oblige. Stellar customer service.
    Sadly, I think the lack of customer service that is prevalent today may well stem from a lack of good manners being taught to children / young adults, in addition to lack of training. There seems to be little respect for others. Of course, this is not the case everywhere with everyone, but look how many young people think nothing of using foul language in public places even though they are completely aware that there are small children and elderly people present? That was completely unthinkable behaviour at one point in my life.
    Larry is right (as he so often is). We, as customers, need to stand up and tell someone giving us poor or bad service, that we have had enough of being treated with an obvious lack of respect for us both as customers and as human beings.

  7. CJ says:

    I think that “we” the consumers are at fault most of the time for poor customer service. Not only do I fire them on the spot, by never going back to that location, I make it very well known to the managers, going as high up the chain as I can get. Recently I had a nasty run in with UPS and was shocked at how I was blocked from the top people no matter how hard I pushed. The stolen item was replaced by the “over the top” customer service at Amazon Prime, but I wanted something done about the theft. I ultimately got my satisfaction when I found that Amazon changed to FedEx. Gee I wonder if it might have been the lousy service and customer service!
    I only deal with companies that will treat me like I am special, which is exactly how I treat all of my awesome clients, every single one of them, even if they are having a really bad day.
    If everyone started actually EXPECTING great customer service and exited the companies that do not give it, either on line or in person, we would eventually see the real old fashioned – hey your special – attitude come back.
    Thank you Larry, you really hit it right on!

  8. sourena says:

    When many people dine out they use tip calculators instead of tipping on SERVICE. That is only one example.

  9. Don Westman says:

    What are your thoughts on making the service department a profit business model? If a companies core business is a tangible product, should “service” be set up to drive it’s own profit?

    Seems like the infatuation of making service departments profit centers is residue from the 90’s and companies need to drive profits through their core products and excellent service to secure loyalty, recommendation and repurchase.


    • Larry Winget says:

      Don, I am not for it at all. I believe that the sale of products and services should be where a company makes their profits and that customer service is what comes with that product or service. Customer service as a profit center makes as much sense as “management” as a profit center.

      • George Daly says:

        Right on! This is where so many companies go wrong. They forsake their real purpose when the “pieces” that ought to support the main business are operated as separate self-sustaining businesses in conflict with the whole. All the money must be made on primary products and services, those that fundamentally define the enterprise. In this context “customer service” must be treated as an investment, a necessary expense that supports the central purpose… the raison d’etre of the business.

  10. Liz Morley says:

    Customers don’t hold onto receipts and read them. Receipts for medium to large companies have detailed information about the entire transaction: the time and date of service, the name and address of the location, the first name of the person providing the service, the name of the general manager, the phone number at which the manager can be reached, and the website of the company.

    This is all of the information customers need, in order to compliment good service and criticize bad service. Forget posting comments on the company Facebook page. Write a letter. Get on the phone and talk to the highest person you can reach.

  11. Creating a Contagious Culture Is the Key to Awesome Service

    95% of the time when I receive memorable service…bad or good…it is a reflection of the mindset of the leader.
    Here are the top 3 recipes for success for an awesome experience:
    1. The best time to fire someone is before you hire them. Too many businesses hire someone because they need a warm body. Clearly define the qualities you are looking for, and you will attract accordingly.
    2. Lead by example! Offices are places that managers go to not work! While you are hiring people to help leverage your time and efforts; it is essential that they see you are willing to do what you ask of them.
    3. Quickly compliment publicly, quickly reprimand privately. This helps to correct your course as you continue on your journey to success.

    Oh, and many times the “leader” is not a leader at all. They were the #1 sales guy, son of the owner, or have just been drawing a paycheck longer than anyone else. l

  12. George Daly says:

    This is interesting… some great individual views… I agree with the first guy. It’s a way corporations shave costs, maximize their profits and they can do it when they have “market power”.

    The guy who says we should just boycott bad businesses has a point, but sometimes we cannot do that. We simply have no reasonable other choices, or it’s impractical at the time.

    How do you fire a caterer that’s two hours late for a wedding? It’s too late. How do you fire Air Canada when their airplanes are unclean and unmaintained; burned out reading lights, broken trays, etc.? It’s too late once you’re inside the airplane. WestJet is not often an alternative because they simply do not have enough flights.

    How to I fire Enmax (gas & water & elec.) or Shaw Cable (monopoly)? How can I fire my paperboy? I don’t even know who he is and even then, where are the alternatives?

    When governments permit, even encourage, monopolistic business practices that reduce our shopping choices, or when we are offered false choices, such as when one company owns 5 brands (like Sport Chek), firing them is not possible. They own all the other brands.

    When Canada Post charges me $20 to hold my mail do I have another choice? They should pay me for stopping my mail. It saves them the trouble of delivering it.

    Things are upside down.

  13. Political indecision, like what is happening in Australia and has been for the last 2 years, and 6 prior to that when the Labor Party was stuffing it up, has people indifferent to their jobs.

    Recently in Brisbane at the counter for the National carrier Qantas, the supervisor justified why I wasn’t getting a small issue addresses by saying, “You are 1 of 10 million frequent flyers and some are known to stretch the truth. I am not accusing you of being a liar but, 100 people have lost their jobs this month, and they used to do the right thing, so now I am sticking to the hard and fast rules…”

    Ad the fastest growing business franchise in Australia is For Leas, shops are sprining up everywhere… they don’t do much business but everyday they expand.

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