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Hi, How May I Offend You Today?

Nov 7, 2007
As an American consumer, chances are that you have been offended in some way by a company this year. It hasn't always been that way. Before the current era of mass-everything, there was a real connection between proprietor and customer: a connection that continues to be the envy of most businesses today.

Let me take you back to a time when the customer and business had a real - not artificial - relationship.


"Jim was spending a typical fall Saturday working on a never-ending list of home repair projects. Ever since he bought the little two-story fixer-upper, he has been a regular down at the corner hardware store. Earl, the sole proprietor, was from the old school. He didn't believe in fancy systems or gimmicks; he just liked helping his fellow neighbors. Earl knew everyone by name, and as any good businessperson should - he knew what one of his best customers, Jim, was up to today.

When Jim walked in the door, Earl recognized him like an old friend and immediately asked him about his latest project. Within minutes, Earl had found just the right product and tool that would help Jim get the job done. Earl made a sale as well as a very happy customer."

That scenario just doesn't happen often enough anymore does it? Perhaps it was easier back before quaint neighborhood stores were overrun by the big-box retailers and the mass-production of, well, everything. Neighborhood storeowners developed real relationships with their customers; not a relationship defined by a customer record stored in some computer database.


Unfortunately, in today's environment of mass-produced products and services, companies rely too heavily on a rapidly changing employee base, and a less than adequate customer database. As a result, it's far too easy - and common - for companies to offend their customers.

If we were to replay Jim's scenario in today's environment, it might go something like this:

"Jim jumped in his car for the second time this Saturday to make the 20-minute drive to a strip mall where the big-box home improvement store was located. On his first trip, the young assistant didn't really understand what Jim was trying to do and had sold him the wrong product. Now, Jim had to return to the store to exchange it for something else.

Upon arriving at the store, nobody greeted or recognized him, and when he finally tracked down a store employee, he had to re-explain his entire project and problem. After a long deliberation, Jim finally had a replacement product and was ready to check out. But without his receipt for the original product..."

You probably know how the story would go. Too many consumers have been treated just this way. It's no wonder that many consumers say that customer service across the board is just plain bad.


Unfortunately, we live in a time where mass-produced products and services are the norm. If you work for one of these organizations, you have to make the most of a difficult situation: multiple locations, multiple channels, changing employees, and rising customer expectations. Many companies turn to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions to bridge the gap on poor customer service.

Although CRM solutions can stem the tide of poor customer service, they often can't achieve the level of customer intimacy that some customers require. CRM solutions do a great job of tracking customer information, transactions, and interactions, but I would argue that a CRM system is only as good as the customer-facing individuals using it.

Ideally, your CRM system should help your organization to keep track of all pertinent customer information:

* Customer Information: This should include all of the basic identifying information for your customer including name, address, email address, telephone number, sex, age, etc.

* Transaction History: This should include a record of all transactions associated with your customer including the transaction dates, amount, products or services purchased, payments, receivables, returns, refunds, etc.

* Interaction History: This should include a record of all contacts made with the customer including telephone calls, emails, newsletters, direct mail, invoices, service calls, etc.

Armed with all of this great information, customer-facing employees should be well prepared to provide excellent customer service, right? In a perfect world, they should. However, there are several factors that can hinder the best intentions of any CRM solution:

1. Employee Behavior & Discipline: Poor customer service can continue even with a CRM solution in place when employees don't utilize it properly or consistently.

2. Data Quality & Accessibility: A customer database can help to collect and aggregate critical information, but it won't help if the data is incorrect or inaccurate, or if your employees can't access it when and where they need it most.

3. Single View of the Customer: CRM solutions in your company are like debt; more is not necessarily better. Too often, multiple CRM solutions arise in an organization, which creates silos of customer data. That can prevent your company from ever getting a single view of your customer - a scenario that can perpetuate poor customer service.

Bad customer service doesn't need to become a habit. We may never return to the time of quant neighborhood stores, where intimate customer service just came naturally. However, companies can begin to improve their customer service by taking a more customer-centric view of their CRM systems. CRM should not be viewed as the end-all solution, but rather as a enabling tool that, if used properly by your employees, can help to develop a more meaningful relationship with your customers.

The next time I walk into a business that I frequent, I'd like them to remember me. I'd like them to recall that I just bought something from them last week, or that I've been a regular customer for more than a year. I'd like them to ask me how I'm doing, or how they can help me with my latest project - which they should know about. Nobody wants to be greeted with an all too common mantra: "Hi, How May I Offend You Today?"
About the Author
Robert Howard is the Founder and Chief Executive of ClearBrick LLC, an innovative business services company that provides do-it-yourself business solutions and advice.

For more on customer experience, check out ClearBrick's innovative Customer Experience Solution Kit.
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