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Every business has a customer service component, but many companies don’t know when they’re not doing well until serious damage is done. What’s important to remember is that every human interaction impacts how others see our companies.

Consider the story of Jill, who serves on the board of her local Home Owners Association (HOA). One of Jill’s duties is responding to email from mortgage companies that inquire about association fees on homes that recently sold in the neighborhood. Every time someone sends an email to the HOA, the association’s email system sends back an instant autoreply that says, “We received your message, someone will get back to you within 48 hours. If you don’t receive a reply within 48 hours, please contact the Webmaster.”

Jill wears many hats and is not the kind of person who checks her email every 10 minutes, but she always responds to these requests within the promised 48-hour window. Not too long ago, after receiving such a request from someone at a mortgage company, Jill received another email from the same person 24 hours later, only this second email was ALL CAPS. The second letter was quite rude, demanding that Jill provide the requested information immediately.  Two hours later, Jill received an even ruder email from the person’s supervisor.

As I listened to this story from Jill, three age-old axioms came to mind:

  1. You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.
  2. Lack of planning on YOUR part does not justify an emergency on MY part.
  3. Your approach determines your response.

I shook my head as I realized that some people have not learned these truths.

When I asked Jill how she dealt with this rudeness, she said, “Normally I just consider that someone is having a bad day, but after receiving the nastygram from the supervisor, I realized that this rudeness must permeate their organization.”

“What did you do about it?” I asked.

“I decided not to be confrontational, but I did decide to have a long memory. When people I know are buying or selling a home, I strongly recommend they steer clear of that company and use one with employees who demonstrate respect.”


I happen to know that when Jill refinanced her house, her mortgage broker recommended she use that particular company. Jill immediately and emphatically said, “No way.”

Think about it. The woman at the mortgage company did not have to be rude in her second email. A simple message from her could have said, “I know you guys respond to requests within 48 hours, but I’m under a deadline. Can you please give me this info as soon as possible?” It’s likely this would have generated a quick response from Jill, resulting in an easy interaction that left no bad taste in Jill’s mouth.

Instead, that company has lost business because of the rudeness of two employees.

I, too, had a recent situation in which I had several choices to select a company to provide a service. At first I selected the company owned by an acquaintance, but the person who initially worked with me was very slow to respond.  When we did connect, he was quite abrupt, acting as if I was wasting his time. I ended up spending my money with one of their competitors, mainly because I didn’t want to reward poor customer service.

I eventually wrote a note to my acquaintance, telling him about my experience, but not everyone will do that. People like Jill are everywhere, taking their business elsewhere and recommending others do the same. In fact, in the book, “Understanding Customers,” author Ruby Newell-Legner says that only 4 percent of people who have a bad experience will tell a company about it, and an amazing 96 percent will not. She also says that 91 percent of people experiencing bad customer service will simply say nothing and never come back.

What’s the ripple effect of that? Consider how far bad news travels as opposed to good news. Research from the government’s Office of Consumer Affairs tells us that if someone has a good experience they will tell (on average) three people about it. But if someone has a bad experience, they will tell seven people about it.

Research conducted by the credit card giant American Express found that 59 percent of Americans are willing to switch to a new brand if they will have a better customer service experience, and that 70 percent of Americans are willing to spend more on a product or service if they perceive they are receiving excellent customer service.

I can easily believe those numbers. The company that processes my credit cards provides me absolutely phenomenal customer service.  Every time I call they give me the impression that I am their most important client. As a business owner, my office is regularly inundated with phone calls from companies telling us they can give us better rates on our credit card processing. To their dismay, we quickly tell them that because of the awesome customer service we receive, no amount of savings will get us to switch.

So who are your customers? What kind of experiences are they having whenever they interact with your company? Allow me to underscore the fact that sometimes it’s the receptionist who can make or break a client relationship, but it remains everyone’s responsibility to be on their “A” game with every client interaction.

And, as we saw with Jill’s story earlier, customer service is not confined to only our paying clients. Every human interaction counts. If we remember that everyone deserves respect and we deliver that in droves, we have a much better chance of gaining new clients – and keeping the ones we have.

Dan Bobinski  holds a Masters Degree in Training and Development, and is president of Workplace-Excellence.com and Everything-Training.com. As a consultant, speaker, and trainer, he helps organizations of all shapes and sizes. He is also the author of several books, including the best-selling “Creating Passion-Driven Teams.” Reach him at dan@workplace-excellence.com or 208-375-7606.