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Top seven reasons customer service slides

By Jeff Mowatt

16774259-mainWhen I’m asked speak at conferences on how managers can boost business, they often assume we’re going to focus on gaining new customers. I’m sorry to say, but that’s the last thing we should focus on.

Neglecting existing customers to chase new business is akin to gathering water in the proverbial leaky bucket. We can exhaust ourselves trying to collect more water when we’d be farther ahead by simply fixing the holes. The more sustainable approach to growing business is ensuring existing customers are so thrilled that they’ll not only return, but they’ll also recommend you to new potential customers. The challenge is that without attention, customer satisfaction often atrophies. To ensure that doesn’t happen in your organization, consider these top seven reasons why customer service slides.

1) Assuming customers notice good service

They don’t. Customers are too busy and distracted by their mobile devices to notice when service is merely good. Employees need to provide service that’s remarkable. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean working harder. It just means choosing words more carefully. Compare, “Do you want us to deliver it?” versus “Would it be helpful if we delivered that for you to save you a trip?” The second phrase didn’t take more work, yet the wording made the offer more noticeable.

2) Establishing Customer Service as a department

When you set up a customer service department, by default it implies other employees will assume that taking care of customers isn’t their job. That means employees end up redirecting customer concerns when they should be addressing problems themselves.

3) Measuring sales versus satisfaction

It’s tempting for managers to evaluate the business by focusing on monthly or annual revenues. That’s fine for measuring how the organization has been doing up till now. But the factor that determines how the business will do in future is not sales, it is customer satisfaction. Sales numbers measure success today, customer satisfaction predicts how you’ll do tomorrow.

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4) Rewarding longevity over service

It’s fine to have ‘service’ awards for long-term employees. However, length of service isn’t nearly as important as quality of service. Customer service cultures that thrive are those where recognition is focused more on internal and external customer service than on just showing up.

5) Training focuses on technical versus interpersonal skills

The term ‘soft skill’ somehow implies customer communication skills aren’t nearly as substantive as technical skills. The irony is that customers take for granted employees have basic technical skills. What customers do notice are the interpersonal and communication skills employees use to interact with them. Technical skills deliver the work, soft skills create the customer relationship.

6) Lack of recovery skills

When customer service training consists of providing customers with information, transactions, and being polite, that skill set will take the employee as far as the nearest foul up. If employees aren’t trained on how to interact with customers when things go wrong, they’re not fully trained. Ironically, customers don’t notice (or appreciate) your service when everything goes well. The time when they actually notice and judge you is when things go wrong. That’s why of all the customer service skills you can provide, recovery skills are those that get you the fastest return on investment.

7) Lack of reinforcement

Without regular reminders and reinforcement, employees revert back to old habits of focusing more on transactions than on customers. That’s why we advocate a three-phase approach to building a customer-focused culture. Phase One is conducting a customized customer service seminar—including recovery skills—that we film to serve as an orientation for new hires. In Phase Two, we provide employees with monthly bulletins and biweekly tips. And finally for Phase Three, we teach managers how to stage their own regular customer service team meetings, so they can continue to train employees in-house and adapt to changing customer needs. That way, you’ll convert a one-time customer service training event into a continuous improvement process.

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Jeff Mowatt is a customer service strategist, award-winning speaker, and bestselling author. For more tips, training tools, or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit

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