The Customer is Wrong and Cannot Be Trusted


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Haven’t we all had those beyond awful customer service experiences? I recently had one of “those” experiences and was stunned that every interaction and communication with this major brand assumed that the customer was wrong and could not be trusted. It is shocking that this kind of behavior is still so pervasive today.

According to Shep Hyken, customer service expert, “Customer service is not a department, it is a philosophy.”

And, this is why so many companies still get it wrong. Most customer service departments are disconnected units built as battle grounds to defend corporate policies or disseminate complicated procedures that presume the customer is always wrong.

Companies must finally fix this by imposing customer engagement and retention behaviors and metrics for every channel used by customers.

According to the report Customers 2020 by Walker Information in collaboration with Customer Think and the Chief Customer Officer Council, by 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.

Here are some other stats to consider:

These insights are corroborated by findings from Voice of Customer Learnings from 15,000+ hours of research conducted by our firm, ERDM;

  • High quality customer experiences must occur at every point of contact, every medium and every part of the customer journey.
  • High value experiences are now a key competitive differentiator for consumers.

Marriott International Puts People First

With a slogan, putting people first, Marriot International has recently been named to the “2015 Customer Service Hall of Fame” by 24/7 Wall Street.

On their website Marriott International notes:

  • We put people first – Take care of associates and they will take care of the customers.
  • We pursue excellence – Marriott’s reputation for superior customer service dates back to J. Willard Marriott’s original goal for his business… We take pride in the details…
  • We embrace change – We’re driven to continually challenge the status quo and anticipate our customers’ changing needs.

Marriott trains its staff to understand each other so that it can understand consumers. According to Nancy Curtin Morris, Marriott’s National Director of Training:

“Our focus on customer service has been strong for more than 70 years. (The ability of) managers and their staff to understand and relate to customers—and that is where the payoff comes in…”

Marriott’s Second quarter 2015 net income totaled $240 million, a 25 percent increase over 2014 second quarter net income.


1. Don’t think of customer service as call-center or chat based. Think of customer service as a company-wide commitment that transcends every touchpoint throughout the customer journey.

2. Companies need to develop customer service policies and metrics that are relationship builders rather than merely avenues to defend company policies or disseminate impersonal information to customers who cannot be trusted.

3. Train employees on communication and empathy so they can better navigate situations with each other and with customers to more efficiently and effectively.

According to Scott Broetzmann, president of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, “Many companies today are simply awful at resolving customer problems…” And in the Arizona State University’s “customer rage” study it was noted that “satisfaction with service is actually no higher than it was in the 1970s.”

Companies need to take a new look at old, outdated customer service that cultivates a combative “us vs. them mentality.” Companies must rethink customer service as a revenue generating skill that builds, repairs and grows long-term relationships.

Ernan Roman
Ernan Roman (@ernanroman) is president of ERDM Corp. and author of Voice of the Customer Marketing. He was inducted into the DMA Marketing Hall of Fame due to the results his VoC research-based CX strategies achieve for clients such as IBM, Microsoft, QVC, Gilt and HP. ERDM conducts deep qualitative research to help companies understand how customers articulate their feelings and expectations for high value CX and personalization. Named one of the Top 40 Digital Luminaries and one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing.


  1. I agree, Customer service is a philosophy and a mind set.
    In my opinion, customer service is very simple, but companies and their consultants embark on high falluting methods, and forget basics and fundamentals. Few want to concentrate on this.
    Today, a CitiBank rep was to meet me at a restaurant. He was late. I called him 10 minutes after the appointed time. He was 5 minutes away, he said. I left half an hour later as he had not turned up. No call…He had done the same thing at the last visit. He was to discuss changing accounts due to US policies on US citizens in foreign countries, which to start with was not good for me. On top of this, his not making it for an appointment. I am ready to dump a 30 year relationship.
    It just was poor attitude on this persons part. All the wonderful things the bank supposedly does cannot substitute the fundamentals

  2. Our organizations should vigorous pursue customer excellence models so as to get it right with customer service.
    The purpose of the Service Excellence Model is to assist organizations to continuously build upon previous service improvement initiatives.
    We work in an environment where we always have to be ready to make changes and where we are always evaluating our actions.
    Therefore, the main premise of the model is continuous improvement and is designed in a cyclical manner to complement a dynamic work environment.
    The delivery of services is too complex and each Department is at a different stage in its delivery of services.
    Employees may want to determine the usefulness and applicability of each step, given their Department’s unique mandate and status.
    The model allows for employees to step into the circle at whatever stage they are at in delivering services.
    So skip a step. Take part of a step. Use all of the steps. Follow the model as a guide in your service delivery.
    Establishing a culture of Service Excellence can be a catalyst for the Service Excellence Strategy to move forward.
    Once Service Excellence is recognized as a valuable tool to improve the delivery of services, the next step is to assist Departments in finding methods to pursue Service Excellence.

    Build Leadership:
    A leader is best when people barely know he exists.
    Not so good when people obey and acclaim him
    Worse when they despise him
    But of a good leader, who talks little
    When his work is done, his aim fulfilled
    They will say: “we did it ourselves”
    – Lao Tsu, Chinese Philosopher

    Leadership drives an organization.
    Excellent leaders set the standard for everybody with their words and actions.
    At the same time, they bring out the best in people and
    encourage individual strengths.
    Every organization has leaders at all levels.
    No matter who you are or what you do, you can be a leader.
    Set an example for others and build leaders all around you.
    It’s not a title that makes a leader, but attitude and commitment.
    For delivering excellent service, the leadership style required is termed ‘servant leadership.

  3. Gautam and Joseph,

    Thanks for your smart comments.

    You are both right on target.

    Citi is wasting all the dollars spent on brand building because that rep did not buy into the service excellence behavior that Joseph references.


  4. I agree with your takeaways, but I wonder whether an adult can be trained to be empathetic. In addition, when a company expects employees to maintain high quality customer experiences at “every point of contact, every medium and every part of the customer journey,” I see the potential for burnout, because that means maintaining a state of hyper-vigilance. This can often backfire. If everything matters, then what deserves priority? Companies and managers still like to identify what’s most crucial. I’m curious – with customer service, have linchpin events or steps been identified so that employees know what, above all else, has to work correctly?

  5. Great point Andrew.

    For HMS National, our VoC research identified the need for warmth and empathy during the claims process.
    Per research; the customer experience, not just the amount of claims paid, significantly impacted satisfaction.
    The Claims/Authorization phone reps were trained in warmth and empathy and their behaviors supported with the appropriate metrics.

    Results were so powerful that HMS National won the coveted DMA Echo award.
    Here is a link to the case study and results;


  6. To me, this is just another one of those articles that focuses on the rare exceptions (Marriott, Zappos are the common ones) and exhorts us to be “like them”.

    It doesn’t work that way. There’s only one marriot, and one zappos, and it is virtually impossible to emulate these companies or try to copy them.

    But what really pushed me to post is that while you tell us what we/they should do, that’s completely pointless exhortation unless you understand and address WHY companies don’t do it.

    In other words, assume that companies with poor customer service are actually run by intelligent people (I know, it’s a leap), then figure out WHY they aren’t doing what you suggest.

  7. Ernan,Thanks so much.Service excellence is key.Service Excellence means exceeding customers’ expectations and paying attention to detail.”
    The principles and processes laid out in the Service Excellence Framework should support the objectives of providing quality service to people .

  8. Hi Ernan

    I wonder.

    Let’s imagine you have two companies. Company A has an absolutely fantastic product, you know, one of those products that everybody must have. And if that wasn’t good enough, the product is a doodle to use and never breaks down. Sadly, the company only has so-so customer service. The other, Company B is quite different. It only has a so-so product that everybody either already has or doesn’t really care much about. And they are not of very good quality; people are always having to get help from customer service to fix them. Fortunately, their customer service is absolutely fantastic.

    Whose product are you going to buy? I know which one I would buy: Company A. It’s a no-brainer. I suggest that only a fool (or a customer service consultant in need of a case study) would buy from Company B. Their customer service is all but irrelevant in a competitive market.

    As Robert suggests, all companies are different. Only Zappos can be Zappos. Only John Lewis can be John Lewis. Developing the capabilities that lead to dominance in a market takes time. Often a very long period of time. It took Toyota 50 years to develop the world-beating Toyota Production System. No other manufacturer has come close since. And very few companies dominate their industries on the strength of their customer service.

    Graham Hill

  9. Hi Graham,

    A key takeaway is not to think of customer service as call-center or chat based.

    Companies should think of customer service as a company-wide commitment to the customer that transcends every touchpoint throughout the customer journey.


  10. Hi Ernan

    In my work I see a very clear difference between Customer Service as a function and service as a philosophy. The difference is important. Customer Service, the function, is the group of people who respond to customers who need support from the company. Today, Customer Service is often staffed with low-skilled people who struggle to give customers the support that they think they have a right to when they bought the product.

    Service is different. Technically speaking it is ‘providing resources and capabilities for the benefit of another’. Customer Service staff are providing service when the customer calls for help. But so are marketers when they provide customers with helpful infomercials. And salesmen when they help configure the right product options for the customer. And even the product itself when it is used by the customer to get an important job done.

    In a nutshell, I agree with you completely when you suggest that the whole organisation should think about how they can better provide resources and capabilities to help the customer get their jobs done, irrespective of who provides them. A service-orientation is a key foundation stone in any successful business. As for Customer Service, I suspect that will shortly be better provided by machine automation, probably embedded directly in the products customers are using.

    Graham Hill

  11. Graham,

    You said it well!

    Customer Service must be a cultural value which is embraced from the CEO’s office down to the loading dock.

    It must be treated as a core value, competitive differentiator and retention strategy which drives high margin revenue from repeat customers.



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