What Customer Service Avoids and What It Should Offer

customer service retailThere’s a lack of respect in this country.

We move people off to the side of the road when we don’t see them as important.

When they don’t appear worth our time. 

One time, I was connecting through Newark airport with my uncle, who needed a wheelchair.  The need for the wheelchair was noted on the reservation and we had been taken very good care of until we were taken to the gate to wait for the plane.

The gate agent announced preboarding, persons requiring special assistance, but we were told to wait until someone could come and push the wheelchair.

Finally, after the gate agent had boarded everyone else, I heard him paging a supervisor.

A guy came and pushed the wheelchair down the jet bridge.  As we got to the end, I was surprised to notice a bus. “Are you going to get him on and off the bus?” I asked. “No, the bus brings you right to the plane. Four steps up and you’re in,” he said. I was skeptical but from his confidence, I trusted we were OK.

When we came to a stop by the plane, I realized he had lied, the plane was over a hundred feet away. As people were leaving, I told the driver they had to get a wheelchair because my uncle couldn’t walk that far. “Oh, there usually is a wheelchair,” the driver said matter-of-factly.

After everyone had left the bus, there was still no wheelchair there. Three of the ground crew were stumped. No one called on their radios. No one did anything.

After about five minutes, one guy finally asked, “Can he walk?” At that point, shamed but needing to get on that plane, my uncle stood up and started out.  He barely made it, stopping to clutch the handrail on the steps up to the plane...exhausted. We boarded and were told by the attendant to sit anywhere. Our reserved seats had been given away, but that’s another story...

So now I have to ask you…

What if that had been you on that tarmac?

Dog tired, humiliated, forced to make the best of a bad situation...how would you have felt?

Do you think there are times your customers might feel surprised, embarrassed, boxed-in, or forced to take it or leave it?

Bad customer service usually stems from a lack of respect for the customer.

If you offer custom drapes or sneakers, swimming pools or carpeting, clothing or bicycles, are you aware of holes in your customer service process that would lead your customers to feel embarrassed or disrespected?

If you know where those moments of opportunity are...but you don't fix them, you are not just disappointing and disrespecting the people who make it possible to pay your bills, but you are outright sabotaging your business.

And if you haven't looked for them, you're just as bad off...probably worse.

If just one customer leaves your retail store feeling rotten, you have lost not just them but everyone they talk to. And if there is another place to go or another way for them to get the products you sell, you’ll never see them again.

Let's not be naive though, in any business, bad things happen.

But when something goes wrong, it is at that moment the customer feels most vulnerable. And it is your duty at that moment, to make it right...to make the connection...to respect the individual and their feelings...to be human.

To truly offer customer service means:

No surprises. If there might be a delay at the start, tell the customer. Don’t be dramatic, but don’t sugarcoat. Things take time. Shoppers will stay reasonable if you manage expectations from the start.

No holes in your process. Keep the customer informed along the way as their custom order progresses. No one wants to be that person who constantly calls trying to get information about something they have already given money to own. No one wants to be that person harping to get someone to fix something or give them a refund. Own their satisfaction.

No embarrassment. This can be the hardest for an employee to realize. If the customer ordered wrong or should have known or double-checked the size – whatever, this is the real moment you can shine. Remember the customer can most always deny a credit card charge for something and get a refund, so remove emotion and handle their claim.

It’s not up to the customer to fix it.  Well, what do you want me to do? can be one of the lamest things to say when things go wrong. Tell them what you will do and then do it.

Got that?

Say what you’ll do.

Then do what you say.


On top of that, you must inspect what you expect.

To check how well your shipping department is for example, have a friend order something online from your shop and see how it arrives.

What to do?

This week have a meeting with your staff to see where your customers may experience delays, frustrations and downright neglect. Then brainstorm processes to minimize those situations.

See also, The 7 Essentials of Exceptional Retail Customer Service

In Sum

Customer service means to avoid doing something that makes customers stop respecting you.

That originates from someone in your organization not respecting the customer.

As I say in my retail sales training, you have to start from what the customer experiences.

Either you see things from their viewpoint and respect them from the beginning to the end…

Or you leave them stuck on a tarmac, cursing the day they ever trusted you.

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