Three hidden reasons why good people provide bad service

Published April 23, 2013
Last updated September 21, 2021

On May 1, we presented a new Zen Masters Webinar: Three Hidden Reasons Why Good People Provide Bad Service. We’ heard from author and employee training expert Jeff Toister about why service failures can still occur even when employees are passionate, well-trained, and represent great products and services, and how to best avoid those pitfalls.

His recent book, Service Failure, examines the surprising causes of poor customer service and provides proven solutions drawn from real examples and cutting-edge research.

1. Your webinar will focus on three reasons good people provide bad service. Why do you think everyday interpersonal skills don't automatically translate into a great customer service?

Some problems are beyond the person’'s control. For example, if you take four hours off of work to wait for a cable repair technician, you probably won’'t be too happy if the person they send doesn'’t have the right set of skills to fix your problem and you have to make yet another appointment. That technician might have the world'’s greatest interpersonal skills, but it doesn’'t fix the fact that you'’ve just wasted half a day.

Some service failures are caused by the way people are managed. I once encountered a sales associate in a sporting goods store who put a little sticker on every item I considered buying. His behavior was strange because he didn'’t stick around to help me make a selection since he was too busy putting stickers on items that other customers were selecting. I later learned that the store manager was using the stickers to track sales performance. The sales associate may have been a nice guy, but he also understood that his boss was really paying attention to how many little stickers he put on items that customers purchased.

In the webinar, I’'ll focus on three of the many ways that our own natural instincts can get in the way when it comes to serving customers. There are fun experiential activities we'’ll use to highlight some of the real challenges that customer service employees face every day. For example, I plan on demonstrating a reason why we’'re naturally poor listeners in certain customer service situations. It'’s hard to become a great listener if you don'’t know about this obstacle.

2. What is one of the challenges good people have to overcome if they want to provide good customer service?

Seeing service from the customer’'s perspective is the biggest challenge we face. Most of us think of good service in terms of the effort we provide or the techniques we use. We think we'’re doing a good job if we work hard, go the extra mile, and remember to be nice.

Customer service is really defined as the extent to which the experience matches the customer'’s expectations. After all, it’'s the customer that fills out our surveys, tells their friends about their experience, and decides whether or not to return. The challenge is no two customers are the same. Some are easy to please and seem to be happy with nearly anything we do. Other's’ expectations are impossible to meet, which is very frustrating since no matter how hard we try that person is still going to be unhappy.

Perhaps that'’s what makes someone good at service. They can make 99 people happy, but they'’ll go home thinking about the 1 person they couldn'’t help that day.

3. Many companies know that providing great customer service is important, but struggle to make it happen. What are they missing? Is there a simple mistake that many companies are making or is it different for each company?

There are two mistakes I frequently see. The first is many companies haven'’t taken the time to define what great customer service looks like. Outstanding service at Southwest Airlines looks very different than at the Ritz-Carlton, so it’'s important for companies to decide on their own unique brand of service. It becomes much easier for employees to do the right thing once they know what'’s expected.

The second mistake is a lack of true commitment. You can’'t get away with just hanging a motivational poster on the wall or holding a one-time training class and expect that to be it. The very best organizations know that outstanding service is something you have to work at each and every day. There are only a few companies that make outstanding customer service a factor in nearly every decision they make.

4. As someone who is well versed in the ways of good and bad customer service, how do you react to bad customer service? How about good customer service?

In some ways, I react like most customers. Bad service is disappointing, frustrating, and often costs us both time and money while we try to get the problem resolved. On the other hand, I also try to understand why the bad service happened. This has sometimes helped me figure out how to get what I wanted. At the very least it gave me a great story for my blog.

Great service is a revelation! I go back often. I sing their praises to my friends. And, similar to my bad experiences, I often ask questions to learn how they'’re able to do it.

5. What are some of the challenges faced by customer service professionals that they might not have had to deal with 20 years ago?

It'’s so much harder to pay attention and stay focused today than it was 20 years ago. Sure, we have a lot of technology at our fingertips that we didn'’t have back then, but this technology has also increased the amount of distractions we face. Any time you lose a little focus you run the risk of missing something important.

When I was working in retail 20 years ago, a customer would walk into the store, and I would approach them to offer my assistance. It was usually just that simple. Today, if you walk into a store, the sales associate is often wearing an earpiece so they can communicate with other associates. They might be carrying a handheld computer to complete inventory tasks or even ring up your purchase. And the customers themselves are often absorbed by their smartphones (which of course didn’'t exist in 1993).

In 1993, companies generally had to manage three communication channels: in-person, over the phone, and the mail. A customer service professional was typically assigned to focus on one at a time. Today, there are many more communication channels such as company websites, chat, Twitter, Facebook, and email. Customer service professionals today are expected to work on several channels at once, so they'’re constantly moving from one customer to another or sometimes carrying on several conversations at once.

Watch the recording of our Zen Master webinar with Jeff Toister: Three Hidden Reasons Why Good People Provide Bad Service

Visit Jeff's blog for additional Q&A from the webinar