5 Common Misconceptions about Customer Service


  1. Anyone can do it. If that were true, there would not be nearly as many examples of lousy service on-line. The ability to manage conflict, stay cool in times of stress and adapt communication styles based on individual customers is difficult. Find the right people and then train them to be successful.
  2. One size fits all. Customers are made of up individuals with individual wants, needs and expectations. That means some customers want to fill out a web form and some want to speak to a real live person. Some people want friendly conversation and others want no-nonsense efficiency.  Identify the differences and prepare for them.
  3. Customers complain. Ok, this one is sort of true. An unhappy customer will complain, but probably not to you. By far the majority of disappointed customers leave a business without telling anyone at the business they are unhappy, but chances are they will tell someone. If you’re not getting complaints, don’t assume all is good. Train your service team to ask and act.
  4. Customers are more concerned about price than service. Yes, there are some people that will move for a few dollars and yes, price and quality need to be comparable, but there are more people that will stay with a company, even if something cheaper comes along, if they feel valued, respected and cared for. Focus on meeting and exceeding their service expectations.
  5. Complaining customers just want a freebie. A complaining customer is giving you the chance to make them happy. They are saying “please fix this so I don’t have to find a new place to go.” Yes, sometimes the fix comes at a cost, but that cost is much lower than losing the customer to the competition, losing future business due to bad word-of-mouth and the costs associated with finding a new customer to replace the one that just left.

Are there other customer service myths you are familiar with?


Thoughtful Gestures = Big Impact

I was up early this morning to facilitate a customer service focused workshop / brainstorming session with the team at the Hampton Inn by Hilton Winnipeg Airport.

When I walked into the room where we would be meeting, the room was all set up with the easel in the front and the pad of flip chart paper lying on a table next to it.  You might be thinking “Now why in the world is the paper lying on a table?  It should be on the easel.”

Here’s why.  At the first session, I took the flip chart paper off the easel and put my own prepared flip charts up.  The empty pad was used for group work.  Margaret remembered that and she made my set up just a little bit easier by putting the fresh paper to the side for me.  Nice!

Sometimes, we over-complicate customer service.  Great customer service is not complicated. Grandiose gestures are nice, but they are not a replacement for consistently delivered, thoughtful words deeds and actions that say “I know YOU, I recognize YOU, I am here to serve YOU.

What’s the Real Problem?

Sometimes moving forward with the obvious answer is our way of ignoring the real problem.

Losing customers due to poor service?  Some obvious answers.  Start firing poor performers or hire someone to motivate the team.  That is so much easier than taking a hard look and asking “Did I do my job and provide the training and support my service teams needs to be successful?” or ” Am I contributing to poor morale and by extension, part of the reason that customer service is down?”

Behind on your work?  It’s so much easier to say “They are asking too much of me” instead of asking “Am I focusing on priorities?”  or “Am I holding on to tasks that others could be doing?”.

Sometimes the obvious answer is the right answer. Sometimes it’s an easy out.



What Time is the 3 o’clock Parade?

Dumb question, right?  The 3 o’clock parade is at 3 o’clock!

This is apparently a question Disney employees hear on a regular basis.  When visitors ask, “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” Disney employees are trained to say something like “The parade starts at 3 at Frontierland, but will be at Main Street USA at about 3:20.”

I love that story. It’s such a great example of taking the time to identify a moment that has the potential to go very wrong and pro-actively coming up with a plan to ensure it doesn’t.

Companies that pride themselves on consistently delivering great service take the time to plan and develop service philosophies. Take a quick peek at the following five stories. How can you incorporate these ideas or philosophies into your business?

  1. Disney’s “It’s not my fault, but it is my problem” philosophy.  When a customer reports a problem, a concern or a complaint, employees are taught to own that moment and work with the customer until the problem is resolved.  No pointing fingers, no passing blame … just focusing on the solution.
  2. David Ogilvy,  founder of Ogilvy & Mather New York, said “We don’t walk our clients to the elevator, we walk them to the street.”  Employees were expected to walk their clients all the way down to the street and help hail them a cab.  What a great way to go way beyond the expected and turn an ordinary customer touch point into an extraordinary customer touch point.
  3. Westjet’s “We succeed because I care” motto.   When baggage handlers contracted by Westjet didn’t load a bride-to-be’s wedding dress on the flight to their wedding destination, flight staff got together to buy the frantic bride a brand new $1,500 gown. (This ties in rather beautifully with Disney’s “It’s not my fault, but it is my problem” philosophy.)
  4. Jimyz Automotive knows you don’t have to be big to be great and you can make everyday, ordinary transactions extraordinary.  He thanks his customers with a handwritten note.  When’s the last time you got one of these from the person who serviced your vehicle?
  5. Home Outfitters doesn’t let policy get in the way of a satisfied customer.  In my blog ‘She Broke the Rules’ ,I received a refund on a product I purchased, even though the receipt clearly stated “no refunds” and I hadn’t asked for a refund.  No, not all rules, policies or procedures can be bent or broken but knowing which ones can be and then bending them for the customer builds loyalty.

Happy, loyal customers means focusing on the person behind the customer label. It’s about taking the time to plan ahead, to come up with responses to silly questions or answer questions before they are asked. It’s about finding ways to make ordinary interactions extraordinary. It’s about fixing problems when they arise and letting our customers know we value them.

Laurie Barkman is a customer service expert, corporate trainer and professional speaker.  Contact her at (204) 995-5836. For information on customer service training programs go to www.servicedge.ca/services.

Why Would Anyone Want to Work for You?

If you want the best of the best working for you, you need to be able to articulate why the best of the best should want to work with you. What do you do that makes your company a better option than your competitor? 

Look for reasons beyond benefits. It’s not that pay and benefits aren’t important. They absolutely are.  Without going into great depth on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if your employees know that another company pays enough to ease financial concerns and eliminate the need to decide between buying food or filling a prescription, staff BBQ’s won’t be enough to keep them with you.

But, in the end, it’s not money that makes you a great place to work.  Companies that want to be THE place to work:

  1. Treat their employees with respect. Make an effort to get to know employees personally. Recognize and value the importance of employee time away from work.
  2. Help their employees be successful, even though some employees will move to opportunities outside of the organization.  Professional development is never a waste of time or money.  Yes, some employees will leave, but better that than having poorly trained employees stay.
  3. Share goals and objectives with their employees.  In order for everyone to pull together, everyone needs to have a clear vision of the overall mission and vision.
  4. Understand that work is about so much more than just work.  ’ Nose to the grindstone’ advocates suck the fun out of work.  Yes work is serious business, but serious business is accomplished more successfully when people are able to laugh and have fun while working.

So, why is your company a better place to work than the competitor down the street? Ask your internal customers, your service team, why they enjoy working for you?  What do they value?

Take a moment to write down your value proposition. Why would someone want to work for you instead of another company?

There is no Easy Button (repost)

There are some interesting opportunities opening up right now.  All are good, but they can’t all be done at once and as I was thinking about these options, I was reminded of this post written over a year ago.  I think at some point, we’ve all be in a situation where there is no obvious one right answer to a situation, scenario or question.  At some point, the thinking has to stop and we need to act.  


There are times in our lives when, in spite of all the experience we’ve gained, in spite of all the books we’ve read, in spite of all the advice we’ve asked for and received, there is no clearly obvious answer to the question “Now what do I do?” or “How do I respond to that?”

When sitting still, when maintaining the status quo for at least a bit longer is absolutely not an option; when the pros and cons have been written down, when the risks, benefits, potential outcomes have been analyzed and then analyzed again and there is still no clear solution, then what?

When the only obvious choice is to move, then close your eyes, take a deep breath and go with the option that feels right, or perhaps, just feels less wrong.  Don’t second-guess your decision when everyone else around you is.  That doesn’t mean refusing to alter from the course; it means recognizing you made a decision based on what you knew and believed at that moment.

There is no easy button and while sometimes we may wish there was, it is during the interesting times, the tough times, the times of opportunity, we find out just how strong or who we really are.

The Four Rules of Customer Service

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, know I believe that great customer service, delivered consistently, doesn’t happen by chance.  Companies that consistently meet or exceed their customers’ expectations have taken the time to develop a service strategy that includes clearly outlined service expectations (based on well-understood customer expectations), training, measurement, reward and recognition tactics.

Below is an excerpt from my soon to be completed book ‘Customer Service from the Inside Out’ that outlines four rules to keep in mind when developing a customer service strategy for your company.

Rule Number 1:  Put the Customer First

You’ve seen the slogans.  Perhaps your company even has one.

  • We are number one in service.
  • Where the customer comes first.
  • Come for the price, stay for the service.

It’s not that service slogans are wrong; it’s just that very often the slogans are created as a marketing tool instead of an actual service promise.   A lot of companies focus on the product first instead of on the customer.  We go into business wanting (hoping?) to provide good service, but there is no concrete plan on how to deliver the implied promise.

Rule Number 2:  It’s the customer’s perception that matters

There is very often a huge disconnect between how often organizations believe they deliver good or great service and how often customers believe they receive it.

Some of that is simply because the people within those organizations are faced with the daunting and challenging task of hiring, training, scheduling, coaching, mentoring, ordering, reporting… the list goes on and on.  Supplies are late, weather is bad, someone calls in sick and yet, somehow, in spite of all the challenges, the business is open and customers are coming in the door.  We give ourselves a lot of credit for the challenges we overcome on a regular basis.

Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.  After all someone has to! Just don’t expect your customers to do so. They’ll pat you on the back, give you figurative high fives, maybe even the occasional real one, if and when their expectations are consistently met and even exceeded.

Rule Number 3:  Service teams provide the service they receive.

If you want your service team to provide great service, provide them with great service.  If you want them to value and respect their customers, value and respect them.  If you want your service team to acknowledge your customers, acknowledge your service team. Say good morning, good afternoon. Ask them about their day. Know their names!

Disgruntled service providers are usually disgruntled employees.  Don’t assume it’s their bad attitude.  Make sure you are not a contributing factor.

Rule Number 4:  Make This a Team Effort

Consistently delivering good to great service is not the responsibility of just one or two people.  It doesn’t matter if someone works front-of-house or back-of-house. It doesn’t matter if they answer phones at front reception or sit in a corner office.  Everyone plays a role in the overall customer service experience.

It takes a team to build a strong customer service strategy.  As the leader of a service team, if you want your team members to buy into the process, include them in it.   Identify key players on your team who can help you build your customer service strategy.  Who will talk to other team members to get ideas and input? Who has the trust of other team members? Who has great listening skills?  Those are the people you want to pull into this very important project.

Are there some other rules you can think of?  Please feel free to share them here.


The Turtle and the Rabbit

We all know the story. The rabbit loses to the turtle.  What if the story didn’t end there. What happened after the race?  Is it possible for the turtle and the rabbit to work together as a team?

Find the answer to those questions in this video.

The Grumpy Bear and the Sly Fox

Not so very long ago, in a forest close by, lived a grumpy bear and a sly fox.

The grumpy bear was known to roar loudly when a gentle growl would have been more appropriate.   The grumpy bear was not comfortable at expressing any kind of emotion.   When the grumpy bear felt uncertain, he became even grumpier.  But underneath that grumpy, growly exterior was a big heart filled with love and good intention.

The sly fox on the other hand, was a smooth communicator.  He spoke softly and gently.  His words were chosen with care and always reflected exactly what his listener wanted to hear.  He never growled or challenged anyone and so many animals in the forest eagerly listened to whatever the sly fox had to say.

The sly fox used the grumpy bear’s gruffness and roughness against him.  The sly fox liked nothing better than to poke the fire and fan the flames of dissension.  He would say things like “If the grumpy bear cared about you, he would do this. That’s what I would do” or “The grumpy bear doesn’t understand you like I do”.  Sometimes the sly fox knew things that would help the grumpy bear, but instead of sharing information or offering to help the grumpy bear, the sly fox would go to others in the forest and say “Why isn’t the grumpy bear doing this?”

Of course, the sly fox never actually did anything to help anyone in the forest.  He left the hard work for the grumpy bear. The sly fox whispered, using his smooth, gentle words to turn the other animals against the grumpy bear, making the grumpy bear’s job even harder.   Then the sly fox would grin, rub his paws and skulk away … until the next time.


A lot of us have a grumpy bear or a sly fox in our lives.  We meet them at work, at play and sometimes at home.  The grumpy bear doesn’t realize how words and actions can be misconstrued when other’s perceptions and emotions are not taken into consideration.  Sometimes the grumpy bear speaks poorly from a place of sincerity and positive intention.

The sly fox knows exactly what the other person wants to hear. He or she looks for and feed on insecurities, fears and weaknesses. The sly fox speaks and acts well from a place of deception and negative intention.

With experience comes wisdom and I have learned to look past the exterior to find the intention.  Some people grouse and grumble, then buckle down and act. Others sound positive and supportive,but in reality are only looking to stir the pot. They ditch and run as soon as their real objective, dissension has been achieved.

Give me grumpy and sincere over smooth and sneaky any day.

A Lesson from The Voice

Today, a friend shared a clip from Italy’s ‘The Voice’ where a nun absolutely rocks the crowd with her version of Alicia Keys “No One.”   She nails it and the look on the judges faces when they turned around and realized this amazing voice and talent was coming from a young woman in a habit, instead of sexy clothing was priceless.

What I like about The Voice is that the judges can’t see the contestant. They base their decision on the voice alone, not the package it is wrapped up in.

A friend said recently “Life gives you what you need when you need it” and strange as it may seem, this video clip is exactly what I needed right now. To me it was a reminder that we are all more than we seem on the outside. We are so much more than our actions, our appearance, our past or our present.

Someone near and dear has made some poor life decisions lately. Those decisions are not the full sum of who he is or who he can be. There are some people who will not be able to see past his protective barriers or his negative behaviours.  They won’t see the potential, the talent or the possibility for a better future.

Sometimes the appearance or behaviour of others is not negative or off-putting.  Sometimes people get lost or missed because they have perfected the art of hiding in public. We glance over them but we don’t really see them.

Chances are there are talents, skills, possibilities and opportunities hiding in plain view where you work, where you go to school, where you socialize or where you worship.  They are hiding behind insecure, perhaps sometimes inappropriate behaviour, odd or unique clothing choices.  They could be hiding behind seemingly successful people who are not pursuing a talent or passion because it doesn’t fit the plan someone else laid out for them.

It is Friday. The end of an interesting week.  The video is below. Enjoy it.  Then I encourage you to make a special effort to look for talents and possibilities you may have overlooked in the past because the person didn’t look or sound quite right.

When hidden talents and possibilities are uncovered, our world becomes a better place.

Note: The video is in Italian, but you can translate using the cc tab.  

%d bloggers like this: