The Seven Sins of Customer Service


There’s a lot of buzz these days about customer acquisition. Customer acquisition is certainly an essential aspect of business, but it’s also time consuming and costly. Wouldn’t it be easier to take great care of your existing customers, to endear them to you and create such loyal followers that they continue to purchase your offering, and happily share your brand with everyone they know? If that sounds better than spending untold thousands and thousands of marketing and ad dollars trying to acquire new customers, then read on…

1. Create policies aimed at the few rather than the many

I see this time and time again –policies meant to control the behavior of those few who will stop at nothing to rip off a company, to game the system. What about the rest of your customers? What about those who are honest? What you communicate to the scammers and rule breakers is that you are on to them. Guess what? They are already finding ways to circumvent your rules. And, those of us who are honest, and loyal? We are left feeling like you care much more about your interests than ours. We don’t feel important or valued.

2. Create processes that work best for you, not your customers

How many times have you tried to resolve a customer service issue, where YOU were the customer, and the process made you want to scream…out loud…from a rooftop? I have done business with, and worked for, companies that were much more focused on what worked for them, for their chosen internal processes, than what worked for their customer. Make it easy for customers to resolve issues and they are much more likely to give you another chance, even when you really screw up. And you will – no company is perfect. It’s how these companies deal with mistakes that can mean the difference between a customer leaving them forever (and telling plenty of people about the experience) and a customer giving them a chance to make it right and regain their loyalty.

3. Leave your guys and gals on the “front lines” powerless

Something I learned long ago: never take no from someone who does not have the authority to say yes. Unfortunately, the majority of companies that have a reputation for poor customer service tie the hands of their employees – these employees are not empowered to say yes…ever. These businesses do not enable their employees to think for themselves, to do what is appropriate (notice I did not say “do what it takes”) to make things right with an unsatisfied customer. Imagine how much better the situation would be for the employee if you trusted them to make good judgment calls. Imagine how much better the situation would be for the customer if they could have their issues resolved quickly by an employee empowered to say yes. Imagine how much better the situation would be for your business if your employees felt valued and your customers felt like you were doing what was best for them? Imagine if all companies had a policy such as this one:

We know that the one thing that sets Omni apart and gives our guests a truly memorable stay is our associates. That’s why we empower every associate to make decisions and take action to ensure your stay is exceptional. From creating programs that appeal to your senses to assisting with dining reservations or just making sure that you have a quick checkout, every Omni Hotels associate has the power to help you with whatever you need through unsurpassed customer service – that is The Power of One®.

It’s such a simple thing and yet many companies totally miss the mark.

4. Automate what should be personal

I wish I had a dollar for every automated email I received as a result of submitting a customer service inquiry through a business’ site – then I’d certainly have enough money to take a nice, long vacation to someplace tropical! If I had a dollar for every personal response I had received for the same inquiry? Those dollars would likely only add up to enough to have a deli lunch near my home. I understand that it’s expensive to pay humans to respond to customer service issues – but, it’s worth it. That does not mean these humans have to provide the first response. But, they should be available to handle those issues that do not fit the “standard” complaints profile. And, they most certainly should be alerted when a customer is beyond the second attempt at resolving an issue. For those high-touch businesses that pride themselves on great customer service and personalized service, humans are absolutely essential.  And, as more and more customers are exposed to the trend of businesses “personalizing” their customer’s experiences, this will become even more critical.

5. Assume you know what would make your customers happy

Before responding to a complaint, listen. Listen, first, to what the customer is telling you. And, to what they are asking for. If the customer is not yet asking for anything, asking “What can we do to make this right?” is a great way to show them you are interested in making them happy. If what they ask for is within reason, oblige. If not, offer something in return. That offer alone could be the difference between them giving you another chance and telling all their contacts how lousy your service is. Now, sometimes customers are “beyond repair.” In that case, it might be that they can’t articulate to you what they want or need and/or nothing you offer will suffice in making them happy. As my husband and I often tell new parents as they stand in shock at the sounds and sight of their toddler screaming for no good reason, “Sometimes they just have to be mad.” In that case, it might be best to cut your losses and take what you have learned from the experience and apply it to your processes. But, it is important to note that there are usually very few “lost cause” customers. Most often just letting people know you hear their concerns, and care about them being happy, is all it takes to turn them around. Quite often, they become a supporter of your brand and tell others about how you made things right.

6. Don’t allow two-way communication (at least not with a real person)

I recently sent an inquiry through a website about an order issue. I received the obligatory email response, an email with “DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL” emblazoned across the top and next to the sender information. OK, I understood this was an automated email just letting me know they had received my email and I expected that a human would soon respond. Uh, no. Every email I got from them (yes, every email), had that same line plastered across the header: DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL. The issue I was having was apparently not “ordinary” for them as every response and solution that was offered was a mismatch to my issue. By the fourth attempt, I gave up and vowed never to do business with them again.

Contrast that experience with my receiving the following personal, “human-generated,” email:

Thanks so very much for your email, I apologize for any inconvenience regarding the postage method upgrade. Please accept our apologies as we are working closely with PayPal to resolve this issue.

PayPal has recently implemented new procedures that require a standard form of shipping and they have been automatically upgrading customers to their standard requirement of Priority Mail as Priority mail is the safest method of shipment. Again we are working closely with PayPal to resolve this issue with them and to allow our customers to choose the method of postage “they” prefer. In the meantime, we are happy to make a one time adjustment anytime before an order has shipped-all you need to do is contact our customer care team and let us know that PayPal automatically upgraded your postage and we will make the proper adjustment

You are more than welcome to contact our customer care team and we would be happy to assist with placement of your order to ensure that the upgrade does not happen (temporarily until this has been resolved with PayPal).

I have made this adjustment for you and issued a refund to your PayPal account. Please do not hesitate to let us know how we may be of further assistance. I apologize again for this inconvenience.

Thanks again,

Customer Care Manager

Note the bolded items in Heather’s response email. These bolded items reference the exact issues I was having with their ordering process and provided the solution I was looking for.

How happy do you think I was upon receiving and reading this email? Yes, you’re correct. I will shop with them again and I think their customer service rocks, regardless of the fact that I had to follow up to get the issue resolved. Most importantly, when others ask me about my experience with this company, I will sing their praises.

7. Hide your contact information on your website and/or social media pages

Seriously people, did you go to the same school as those who have taken an oath to hide every wall outlet in every hotel room across the 50 United States? Why do those folks hide the outlets and why do you make it difficult for customers to contact you? Are you trained by former insurance processors whose mantra is to “deny, deny, deny until they cry, cry, cry?” Maybe I want to contact you to sing your praises, to apply for a job or to interview your CEO so I can publish a story about your company. Did that ever cross your mind when you were devising the best hiding place for the Contact Us section of your site or social media pages? There are some fundamentally required tabs or sections on every website and Contact Us is perhaps the most important one. And by all means, offer more than one means of contact. Some of your customers don’t want to chat with you about an issue through a flurry of automated emails. Some customers want to speak with you in person, as in the old-fashioned way, by phone. Your phone number? It’s only 10 digits to type…ten simple little key strokes. Of course, there should actually be a person on the receiving end of that call, or at least a way to leave a message.

I hope this list has provided some food for thought and that you are already busily checking all your customer service touch-points for ways you can improve the customer service process for your customers, for your employees and for your business.

The key takeaway?

Make it easy for customers to do business with you, and they will.


What has your business done to improve your customers’ experiences? Please share your experiences and suggestions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *