The business and its cumbersome rules and procedures have become more important than the customer at most American businesses.

It starts at the point of initial contact: “To speak with a sales rep, fill out this form”. It’s as though the customer must qualify for consideration prior to getting the answer to a question. The forms I’ve seen are laughable. Some ask for the size of the business (annual sales or number of employees), the position the lowly form ‘filler outer’ and, in some cases, how much money will be spent.

If you have a problem with your purchase, things get really dicey. Fill out another form and then “expect to be contacted, usually within 48 hours”.

It’s worse than that. Companies will charge credit cards before giving a total (happened to me yesterday). Fail to give tracking numbers for important shipments. Whine about simple changes to an order like “can I change that to blue instead of red?” But then grow annoyed with the customer when they won’t accept a change to red because the company is out of blue!

In general, service just stinks at most businesses regardless of how much spouting off the business does about quality, service, support or, my personal favorite, continuous improvement. When I see the words “continuous improvement” or a not-so-clever variation like “we are always improving” I know the service is going to be lousy. If the word “strive” is used, avoid the business altogether. Is is necessary to “strive” to provide decent service? Does simple communication with customers require that much effort?

Even small companies are adopting the bunker style of service. “You may be granted an audience with us only after reading all the help screens and the FAQ page. You must then agree to have read those pages and pass a brief test. If you pass the test, you will be granted access to a form where you may express your problem. If we deem you to be important, we will respond with a canned email which does not answer your question. If you have the patience of Mother Theresa, you may fill out a second form which will elevate your problem from an automated response to a response copy and pasted from a help file by an actual person.”

This is only a slight exaggeration.

Even though customer service is the most important part of growing and sustaining a business, most businesses will see the customer as an annoyance. Service is seen as an after sale expense. Cut service, increase profit.


Improve service, raise margins.

Many CEOs will dispute this with me. The market is far too competitive to raise prices. Right?

That’s true if promising great service is no more than a slogan. But if the potential customer can experience service, real service, from the first contact, a business can command a higher price.

The problem is that few businesses will go much beyond the slogan.

Nothing new here. Same stuff you’ve heard a thousand times.

Are you going to work on service? It will pay to do so.

Chris Reich