Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why is Great Service Hard to Find?

Image courtesy of aboutthenet
If you're like me, you're probably constantly scratching your head and wondering: "Why is great service so hard to find?"

Last week, I wrote about why companies should give a hoot about delivering great customer service to their customers. In today's post, again from Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great Service, I answer the question about why great service is hard to find. It baffles me because it seems so obvious that great service - and a great overall experience - will have customers coming back for more. Let's see what Zingerman's has to say about this. In his book, Ari Weinzweig provides eight reasons or answers.

1. It's unfamiliar. We didn't grow up with it. Our parents didn't point it out to us when it happened. They pointed out other things that were important but not great (or bad) service. (I really think our generation will turn this thinking around and call it out. I do. I hope others do, too.) So nobody really knows what it looks like. The fix here is setting clear expectations and providing lots of training.

2. It's not respected. That seems contrary to popular belief, no? But I like what Ari says here; in a nutshell, Americans look down on those who provide service. "Although everyone says they want to get great service, far fewer want to actually give it. The truth is that if you're a service provider, it's more than likely that you're considered by at least part of your peer group as something of a 'failure.' Successful people simply aren't supposed to end up working in service jobs." I can't argue with that perspective.

3. It requires more work in the moment. It takes a lot of work and focus to deliver great service day in and day out. If you're not willing to put in the time and effort, it won't happen.

4. It's hard to get John Wayne out of the way. It's hard to change behaviors and perceptions among people who were raised to be strong, fight for their rights, stand up for what they believe in, and don't take crap from anyone. As you know, to deliver great service, you need to forget all of that.

5. It's not fair. If you were raised with the notion that life is fair (um, I wasn't), then you'll be quickly disillusioned. Customers are rude to you; you're nice to them; they continue to be rude to you. That's not fair. As Ari points out, often, customers who are rude and complain often get more attention than those who are considerate and don't complain. Ari says that he tells his employees that "Fair is another planet. And we, unfortunately, are not on it." Reminds me of what my uncle used to say: "The fair is in Pomona." (For those of you not in SoCal, the LA County Fair takes place in Pomona, CA.)

6. There's plenty of good talk but also bad walk. This one cuts to the heart of leadership and how leadership models behaviors for their employees. If a store manager walks past a customer without acknowledging him or without asking if he needs help, that sends the wrong message to employees.

7. Reward systems don't reinforce it. And if they don't, then your employees will be unlikely to deliver great service. Leadership must recognize great service, both through kudos and thank yous and through financial rewards.

8. It's not defined. This is probably one of the top reasons, if not the top reason, great service is hard to find. If it's not defined, employees have no idea what it looks like or what is expected of them.

I think this is a pretty comprehensive list of reasons. Can you think of any others?

You’ll never have a product or price advantage again. They can be easily duplicated, but a strong customer service culture can’t be copied. -Jerry Fritz


  1. 9. People are stupid.

    A bit controversial but... We all know we should go to the gym, lay of the booze and cigarettes and get enough sleep. Yet few of us have the sense to do so. I think providing great service falls into the same camp.


  2. Annette,
    I think it is familiar to us and that is why we recognise it. I also think that we did grow up with it but it as things have got faster and busier in our lives that has been one thing that has fallen by the wayside. However, I believe we are, in large part, trying to (re)capture and reinvent the service of our parents and their parents form a time when business was personal.


    1. Interesting perspective, as always, Adrian. I wonder what it will take for us to get back to that personal service (that didn't require the right data at the right time...).

  3. Great list, Annette.

    I think I could add many, many items to the list since this is the subject of my book, Service Failure. However, I'll share two that might be the most prevalent.

    1) Companies and people think they're good at service, even when they aren't.
    2) Many companies haven't clearly defined outstanding service for their employees, so "great service" is an unclear concept.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. Your second one is like #8, but your first one is a great addition. Sadly.

  4. #5 is the kicker. Most people have a sense of pride. If they are feeling berated or personally attacked it's hard to toe the line of 'providing good customer service'. Definitely, a talent to leave your ego at the door.

    Providing quality customer service is a talent. Some people have it and some don't. It's not to say that those that don't aren't able to develop the skill of providing quality service, it's just harder for them. It's like Michael Jordan had the talent of basketball and his commitment to it made him one of the best skilled players of all time. I could have that same commitment level as MJ, but would never reach his level.

    Identifying people who possess this innate talent is hard to find, but I know it exists. The little old lady at my sandwich shop can't help to provide good service.

    1. You're right, Patrick. They are hard to find. I think we need to first define who we are looking for and what qualities they should possess. And train for the rest. It's possible.

  5. I would add that managers don't constantly remind their employees of the company's commitment to deliver exceptional customer service. Too many managers see customer service training as a Day One and Done task. But Samuel Johnson said, "People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed." Leaders in the best service companies commit to frequent customer service training reminders as they simultaneously reward, recognize and celebrate those who do deliver outstanding service.

    1. I like that quote, Bill. Reminds me of being told that you need to introduce a new food to your child 21 times before they'll "like" it. Repetition and reiteration are important, for sure.