The Importance of Being Earnest – How to Fail at Customer Service

HearingCustComplaintsSmWhy does it seem that many entrepreneurs and managers think that customer service is like a Japanese Manga cartoon? In Pokemon and its ilk the main characters are all earnest and think good thoughts and if they think good thoughts hard enough then they will win and everybody will be happy. Except that in customer service, like many things, thinking good thoughts isn’t enough to get the job done. Telling me that you will make sure that I will be a satisfied customer is fine but pretty meaningless unless you actually make an effort to ensure that I’m well and truly satisfied.

One of many things I learned in my handyman franchise operation was that a guarantee meant that I had to make good on it or else customers would be really upset with me and my business. When I had to take money off a bill or not charge a customer at all because of a customer service fail by my office or my contractors I realized that it was a signal to me take personal ownership of it and then to go back and look at my own operation. Often the business owner will blame the customer for being picky or just plain wrong or not reading the contract – anything to get out of making good on that guarantee. It can be pretty daunting to actually reach into your wallet and take real money out and hand it back but if your customer is not satisfied you’d better find some way to have them leave as little disgruntled as possible. You must guarantee your product and you need to make good on your guarantee to have any credibility and earn repeat business from your customers.

True customer service involves having processes in place to make sure problems are handled quickly and that the problem is actually fixed. This means follow-up and communication with the customer and any staff responsible for solving the problem. I had a service issue recently where the business owner was surprised that the solution that she put in place didn’t happen because she failed to follow up with the person responsible for the fix. She just assumed that it would all be taken care of and didn’t bother to communicate back to me or to even ask her contractor if he’d completed the rework. And it wasn’t. Yet she kept telling me that she was determined to make sure I was satisfied. The only problem was that she never actually asked me any questions to understand my real concerns and she never followed up to determine if what she had done actually was effective. It was like she was thinking good thoughts and expecting it all to be OK just because she said it was.

One major source of failure is writing the contract. In the service business a written contract is an important tool. The handyman business generally operates on verbal contracts which also means that if there is a misunderstanding or someone has changed his or her mind then there is a strong possibility of a customer service fail. It may even be the customer’s own fault but without having it in writing you have no recourse unless you want to call the customer a liar – which is not going to earn you more business from her.

If you get a complaint then you need to make sure that it gets handled in a timely fashion. You can’t just keep putting it off until you feel like taking care of it. You can’t just pass it on to someone else and forget about it. Remember that an unhappy customer will tell 24 others and will likely never return to do business with you again. In fact only 1 out of 25 unhappy customers will even bother to tell you about their unhappiness. So, getting even one complaint is an indication that you could have a much bigger problem lurking within your business. And no complaints does not mean that you have not problems either. People may just not want to talk to you.

If resolution of the complaint means that you have to refund money or pay for repairs or replacements then just bite the bullet and deal with it. Quibbling does not endear you with your customers. Arguing about whether the customer’s complaint meets all the technical details of your guarantee violates the intent of the meaning of the contract you have made with your customer. You are better off giving your customers the benefit of the doubt. If your product is that bad that you have to worry about huge quantities of refunds then perhaps you need to get out of the business rather than continue to upset customers.

The root cause of customer complaints is pretty much going to reside within your operation. In fact gathering all of your complaints and looking for common causes can help you pinpoint your issues and give you the chance to remove them completely.

Larry Earnhart
Alchemy Business Consulting
December 16, 2014
See my new book, “The Profit Machine” Available on



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.