Bad Customer Service is Bad Marketing

There are still millions of companies that fail to understand a basic premise about their own environment – customer service matters. These companies occupy a space in which they no longer have control over their brand. They can still buy ads, media coverage, and politicians, but the people -customers- are empowered with tools never before seen in the history of commerce.

It is easy to spot a company that still relies on disappointing sales tactics such as incentive deadlines, playing on a sense of fear, or blatant lies. Internally, the sales staff is constantly under pressure to meet a high quota or log their every interaction for managerial oversight. They prioritize landing the next sale over earning the next 10 sales. I recently had two experiences in the same Friday that reinforced the basic principles behind the necessity of good customer service.

sears vision statement customer serviceThe first involved Sears. My wife scheduled a repair for our refrigerator and while making the appointment, she was solicited to receive a free estimate on the same day on any home repair. We had been considering new windows and there was “no obligation” so she booked the estimator simultaneously. Near the end of the estimation process, she called my office to share the price and other details. I work close to home and decided to talk to the guy in person. I came home and Steve (the estimator) immediately began telling me about all of the pricing and rebate incentives if I purchased windows today. I explained that I wouldn’t be making such an important investment in my home after a brief conversation and no other estimates or research on the subject.

“Okay man. I understand. Thank you for your time.”

He was packed and out the front door in under 60 seconds. Literally. No effort to answer my remaining questions, no information about alternative window options, scheduling, warranties…nothing. I didn’t buy so he didn’t care.

It may go without saying that while it took him less than 60 seconds to leave my house, it also took me less than 60 seconds to decide against using Sears for this project.

I have the pleasure of connecting with Ted Rubin, Chief Social Marketing Officer at Collective Bias, on various social media and I posed this encounter to him. He is a champion of educating companies on the benefits of truly great customer service and how to position themselves for healthier business by investing in a Return on Relationship­™. In his words,

“The Sears salesperson had an amazing opportunity staring him in the face. If nothing else you would have most probably shared with others the way he added value to the process.”

And right he is!

Customers today are equipped to dramatically impact a company with a comment on Facebook, screen capture of a Twitter feed, or an experience shared on Yelp. This shortsighted salesman was ready to pressure my wife with incentives and deadlines but unprepared to build a relationship with a customer. If he had done things the right way and not stormed off like a child, he may have earned a customer in the near future. Now he has no chance of doing that.

Once I got back in my car and headed back to work, the second bad customer service experience began. I got a call from someone at my office that a person was there to see me. We didn’t have a meeting scheduled but if he was willing to wait 15 minutes for me to return, I could give him a few minutes to meet. It was my sales rep from a company called Search Options, whom I had spoken with earlier in the year and explained that I couldn’t move forward with them because I was under contract with my current vendor and happy with the relationship. But he dropped by anyway to tell me that one of his corporate officers was flying into the area next week and he would love to setup a meeting with me so I could learn more about their services and hopefully capture our business immediately. I again explained that I am already contracted with another vendor and it doesn’t come up for review until the end of the year. He actually said, “I remember you mentioned that but if you meet with him I think you’ll like what you hear.”

Clearly he had no respect for my current relationship but wanted me to start one with him. I started picturing a mistress who wanted me to cheat on my wife but then stay loyal to the mistress.

Again, I presented the situation to Ted Rubin and got his opinion:

“[He] could have set himself up as first in line when your other contract was coming to a close simply by leveraging the visit by his corporate officer as a relationship building tool, rather than a sales opportunity. Let you know the time and effort they were willing to put in, even while being aware that it would be 6-8 months before you could seriously consider.”

Similar to the Sears instance, instead of being disrespectful and pressuring for a quick sale today, the salesman could have laid a strong foundation and “set himself up as first in line”.

As companies navigate the still-new waters of social media, they need to realize that the way they treat people in their stores is the way they will be portrayed online. It is impossible to cover it up, gloss over it, or pretend it didn’t happen. A chorus of negative feedback will expose your behavior as it truly is. And never forget that people are three times more likely to complain than they are to praise. This is how brands get hijacked by empowered customers and -for good or bad- it is usually accurate.

My thanks to Ted Rubin for giving his insight. Please share your good or bad customer service experience that impacted your decisions with a comment below.


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  1. Ted Rubin

    Great post Nathan… there are so many missed opportunities. The smart companies look at customer service complaints as an opportunity to shine rather than a cost center.

    1. Nathan Greenberg

      Thanks Ted. Your feedback was appreciated by me and the many companies you work with every day. I look forward to the opportunity to meet you in the near future.

  2. Jordan L. Skole

    Hi Nathan,

    Thank you for the article and for providing us with feedback on your recent customer experience from one of our field representatives. At Search Optics we are constantly trying to iterate our sales model to better serve our customers and your feedback helps us do so.

    A little background: A priority of our organization is to be high-touch, and focused on being there for our customers as consultants to answer any questions that they might have about our products, or anything which the team is a subject matter expert on. While this sounds easy in theory, it is often very difficult to achieve in execution. I would like to apologize on behalf of our organization for failing at that execution with you on Friday.

    Thank you again for writing this article. It will be extremely helpful to us as we consult with our field representative and with the rest of our field staff and use your article as a training tool to help us further iterate our customer service model. If you have any questions or would like to provide us with any additional information about your experience on Friday please feel free to reach out to me directly,

    Jordan L. Skole

    1. Nathan Greenberg

      Thank you for the quick reply Jordan. That step alone gives a small example of Search Optics’ dedication to reputation management and, as Mr. Rubin mentioned in a previous comment, that you recognize “an opportunity to shine”. I hope your field personnel will truly believe that a long term relationship is far more valuable than a short term sale.

      Again, I appreciate your comment here and hope this constructive criticism helps Search Optics moving forward.

  3. Meg C.

    What a terrific article. This is something that I focus on heavily in my business (Residential Property Management) as renewing people costs us less money than bringing in new clients, and the reputation along with word of mouth advertising is critical to our success.
    Years ago the president of our company brought in someone from Ritz-Carlton to discuss their customer service philosophy at our annual Property Manager and Asst. Prop. Mgr. retreats. It reinforced my own philosophy and methods but also helped tremendously in a challenging real estate market with a cash poor property I was running at the time. The other HUGE influence was a book called “Hug your customers”. We ask for more money than most of our competitors, but we have built and re-built a reputation so solid that people know we are worth it and will take care of them. So many companies who are driven by new sales, fail to hire people who are genuinely nice or aware that there is no disconnect between customer relationship and CONTINUED sales success. You can teach anyone to sell, but you can’t teach people to be genuinely nice (aka customer service focused) You can be a shark in sales, but that won’t benefit you forever without relationships. If your business relies on new sales, then you need referrals. It also doesn’t benefit you to have a sales personality who doesn’t jive with the customer’s personality and isn’t able to adapt to the customer. You simply can’t take a scripted, same-size for everyone approach to your customers. We genuinely care about the reputation of our company because we believe in where we work and who we work for and are cared for as employees. We express that by caring for our customers and empowering our associates to do so… and they do, because they want to. We also make sure that our maintenance teams understand that you don’t just go fix something, you ask how everything is going, you tell them about our referral program, you ask that if they are pleased with service, if they’d take a moment to share that with others. Most field techs are not sales guys… but they can be and they can often be better at it because their approach is less threatening to someone not wanting to hear a sales pitch. They are your face in the homes of your customers and instead of forcing them to meet quotas, make them love your company by treating them right. They will want to talk to people about what they love about their business and what they can do for you if you trust them. In my line of work, you will fail as a business to make a profit if you fail to understand that Customer Service is more critical than any other aspect of your work, including new sales. From the point of greeting someone to the point of closing out their account after they’ve moved out. They never stop being as important to us as they day we meet them and and take their reservation fee, even if it’s 6 months later after they leased somewhere else and come back to us. I recently had the chance to speak about this among a conference full of sales reps for a large Cable company that we partner with at several of our communities and it was eye opening. :) Thanks again, this is terrific!! Meg. C.

    1. Nathan Greenberg

      Wow, thanks Meg. Obviously you understand these concepts from a variety of first-hand experiences. I appreciate you taking the time to share some of those stories here. Let’s hope more companies have more employees who understand the value and priority of these scenarios and approaches.

  4. madhu

    in either case, if there was a “sale” concluded, companies would have applauded the proactive, go-getter attitude of the sales rep! and there are many sales concluded that way as well..

    1. Nathan Greenberg

      I agree. It would have been the usual “end justifies the means” mentality. But it didn’t work for either one. So instead of hypothetical victories, both companies have real sales that didn’t occur. Not much to applaud.

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