Monday Mornings with Madison


Customers do business with people they know, like and trust. This is the golden rule of sales and marketing. When people know you, like you and trust you, they are more likely to do business with you. It is usually that simple… and that difficult. For many businesses, the proposition of winning customers is lost in second part of that rule. After businesses spend huge amounts of money in advertising and promotion – touting who they are and what they do — so that people will ‘know’ them, they invariably lose customers (and flush all that money away) when those very customers don’t ‘like’ doing business with them. Hence the birth of Customer Service and Customer Retention Departments, layers upon layers of management, and a booming industry of outsourcing service centers to India and the like.

Once nonexistent, the rise of the “Customer Service” department is a sign of the growing disconnect between the experience companies promise and customers’ perceptions of what they are actually getting. This is especially true now. Customers, exhausted and depleted from years of recession, evaporating home equity, job insecurity, and rising prices, are unwilling and unable to deal with long hold times, long lines, impenetrable phone trees, and bad attitudes. A swell of corporate distrust — exacerbated by high executive pay, accounting lapses, and the offshoring of jobs — has customers feeling more at odds with companies than ever before.

Is it just that customers’ level of tolerance has declined as their ability to voice frustrations has grown? Perhaps in small part. Technology is certainly aiding in a consumer uprising that has been spreading thanks to the Internet, mobile devices and the rise of social media. Case in point. A few years ago, Bob Garfield, a National Public Radio host and columnist for Advertising Age, created a blog called, after repeated delays with his own service. It is what he called his “consumer jihad” against the cable company. Garfield set up the site and invited other frustrated customers to voice their concerns. He advised frustrated Comcast customers to post their account numbers on the blog. The result? Dozens of customers did just what he suggested, and reported back that Comcast called them soon after they posted their account numbers and rants… and solved their problems. As Garfield pointed out. “They’ve outsourced their worst-case customer-service issues to a blog dedicated to wiping them off the face of the earth.”

More often than not, however, the rise in complaints about ‘bad service’ is an indication of just that… a rise in bad service. And bad service is bad for business. Business owners and managers alike know this is true. In business, a process of natural selection happens to companies that give bad service. Rather than survival of the fittest, what really happens is extinction of the worst. It is true that some customers will stand in line for an hour and deal with a clerk with a lousy attitude to get a great bargain on an item that will last for years. They will choose to shrug off the crummy service and remember the bargain. Likewise, they might frequent a local store that gives lousy service if it’s convenient for the odd purchase that they need immediately. But overall, businesses that consistently deliver bad service without apology or change eventually close.

The good news for businesses is that it turns out that it’s usually cheaper to give great service than it is to give lousy service. It’s not easier, but it’s cheaper. Business people know this, acknowledge it, discount it as obvious and trite, but then they ignore it like something hidden in plain sight. This is a truth that is known, but not practiced.

Another case in point. This time we’ll look at an example of good service by an airline. It is an ironic example since the airline industry is consistently ranked as among the worst in customer service. JetBlue, one of the discount airlines, changed the rules of the airline business. When you call customer service at JetBlue, you get a real person that is usually eager to help you. This personalized, superior customer service is cheaper to provide than the automated voice-mail nightmare that most airlines foist off on the general public, because JetBlue used innovation to create a new model of service. JetBlue’s customer service representatives work from their homes. They receive customer calls over VOIP (‘Voice over Internet Protocol’). This means they have more flexibility in their work, are more comfortable, and generally happier. In turn, JetBlue doesn’t have to invest in expensive real estate, office furniture or equipment. This saves money. JetBlue has built its business around customer-centered service that makes their staff eager to help. Consequently, JetBlue saves money, gives great service, has lower staff turnover, and happier customers who give positive feedback to their staff.

What is the moral to the story? It’s simple.If people do business with people they know, like and trust, then it is every employee’s job to make sure that customers are dealing with people they ‘like’. Next week, we’ll look at some tips and best practices that all businesses can employ to give consistently great customer service.

“To my customer: I may not have the answer, but I’ll find it. I may not have the time, but I’ll make it. I may not be the biggest, but I’ll be the most committed to your success.” Anonymous

© 2010 – 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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