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Opinion: How to fix 6 sins of customer service

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Nothing irks some people more than a poor customer experience. Whether it’s having dinner out, purchasing equipment or buying professional services, an unsatisfying purchase experience sticks in your craw.

Much of how companies treat and solve their customers’ needs stems from the behavior of customer-facing employees. This can be very costly – or profitable.

According to author Jay Baer, 83% of Americans are inclined to purchase a product or service with a positive recommendation from a family member or friend. In contrast, a CEB report indicates over 50% of customer disloyalty stems from the purchase experience, not the product.

The right behavior toward customers is crucial. Here are six correctable customer service sins occurring in organizations of all types and sizes.

1. Indifference. A customer’s issue is important to them. In turn, they expect that their issues will be very important to the people they do business with. Coming across as inattentive or uncaring about a product issue can make a customer feel like their business isn’t appreciated.

For example, a manufacturing client of mine was losing business because its employees were labeling certain customers as “problem customers.” It’s unwise to use such labels because eventually those individuals are likely to be treated like a problem, rather than a valued customer.

2. The brush-off. When we routinely pass off a customer onto someone else without hearing the person first, a brush-off occurs. Another brush-off occurs when a company won’t take responsibility for mistakes.

Recently, I bought a set of tires from a big-box store. Driving away I heard noises. They denied anything was wrong, but my mechanic found three bolts that had been cross-threaded on one tire. After multiple return trips and hassles, they finally agreed to reimburse me all but a $55 expense.

They’ve lost my future business along with any chance for positive recommendations to others.

3. Clueless or uninformed. If no one seems to know what’s going on with the customer’s issue when they call, it creates friction. This usually happens when employees in various departments aren’t keeping each other well informed.

Communications training can help, and I recommend using actual customer scenarios or a simulation-game exercise to help employees comprehend the importance of keeping customers and co-workers up to date on relevant issues.

4. Condescension, blame or defensiveness. Customers hate being talked down to and they don’t like it when they are blamed for a problem using a product. I’ve had clients whose employees made ridiculous comments to customers such as, “Why did you break it?” or “You should have known it isn’t designed for that.” Not surprisingly, some customers were miffed and eventually left. Be honest, but don’t insult your customer.

5. Robotic. This occurs when we come off cold or unfeeling in the experience. For instance, you may not remember if the clerk thanked you, but you likely remember how they made you feel.

I remember an automotive services client that termed the first step in their customer’s experience, “the write up.” It required the service rep to complete an information checklist when customers arrived, but didn’t include extending a warm, friendly greeting. After recasting the step as a “great greeting,” and training employees to deliver a warm welcome, customer scores improved. Add caring behavior to monotonous steps in your service cycle for a better customer experience.

6. Bias or presumption. At a client’s recent customer service training, a manager conveyed her experience as a single female shopping for a new riding mower. At one store, she waited for over an hour as male employees ignored her and waited on men and couples instead. She left vowing to never return. There’s no place for bias of any type; eliminate it.

The best companies consistently deliver solutions that solve problems while also delivering excellent customer treatment.

Consultant and professional speaker Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and He’s also the author of “The Five Rules of Megavalue Selling.” He can be reached at


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