Read the First Chapter

Introduction

Customer service has been turned upside down by the self-sufficiency and immediacy of shopping and buying products and services on the Web. Our self-help culture has been transformed into a self-service culture with customers able and willing to do much more for themselves. At the same time, we are becoming accustomed to the benefits and good feelings that we experience online through automated buying experiences that can be customized and personalized to our schedules, locations, tastes, buying patterns, and desires.

The Internet provides extensive alternatives and multiple sources for almost any product or service a person wants to buy. Add that to buyers’ virtually unlimited ability to shop and price-compare online, and it is easy to see how customer loyalty could become more a thing of the past.

More than ever before, the transactional relationship between the seller of products and the buyer of those products is critical to companies’ overall profitability. Except for economic monopolies, only companies that deliver excellent customer service make money. In this increasingly transparent world where so many products and services are viewed by consumers as commodities, providing exceptional customer service becomes the only sustainable competitive advantage for creating customer loyalty. The harsh economic realities that every business faces today and for the foreseeable future make this even truer.

BAM! debunks the twenty common myths of customer service—from “The customer is always right” to “Customer service means the same thing to everyone” to “Companies achieve customer service by under-promising and over-delivering.” Customer service myths run the customer policies of many companies without anyone even questioning them. Unfortunately, this ensures that customer service will only be a “bolt-on” and not a part of the DNA of that company. Inside the DNA of most companies is where customer service needs to be in order to retain profitability.

BAM! replaces myths with a tactical approach that shows companies how to make more money through attitudes and actions that will help their customers feel satisfied in good times or bad.

We are two businesspeople who have spent most of our lives selling products, services, and ideas. We have both worked for large corporations, which we then left to start our own sometimes-successful companies. We write about business extensively. We closely examine the cost of everything we do. After spending significant portions of our careers in high-technology-products business, we are both in the business of providing professional services.

Customer service is important in any business, but at the top of the list in professional services. In our companies, delivering BAM!-good customer service measurably increases revenue, reduces cost, and makes doing business much more enjoyable for us and for our customers.

Barry shares such a passion for serving his customers that he dreams about it—the kind of dreams where someone is chasing him and he wakes up right before they catch him, or he has  a test at school and he arrives late. He has dreams where he is sitting in a restaurant and he can’t get the food he ordered before he has to leave for another meeting. He wakes up in a cold sweat screaming and yelling. It makes him realize how important excellent customer service is in business and how rarely he receives it.

When you meet Barry, you can see him wearing a button that says: Just give me good customer service and nobody gets hurt. He hopes it will strike fear into every retail establishment and set the customer service expectations higher.

That button actually got us thinking about the adjectives used to describe customer service. We call the kind of customer service that we (and we are pretty sure everyone) wants BAM!-good customer service. In our book, we talk about what that means and how to deliver it. Then we started thinking about what to call “bad” customer service, and it hit us that there is no such thing. Companies treat customers badly all the time, but this isn’t customer service by any degree. It is bad, sometimes even abusive treatment and we ought to call it that. Let’s stop sugarcoating it.

Bad treatment so permeates American business that many of us don’t realize how little customer service there actually is until we go into the rare place that treats its customers like kings. Why do we as consumers put up with bad customer service? Assuming there is a choice to get the product or service somewhere else, are we too lazy to make a change? Is the barrier to exit too high? Or have we been lulled into expecting and accepting less and lowered our standards accordingly?

We always tell businesses that what is critical for their growth is a sustainable competitive advantage. Unless yours is an economic monopoly, every business needs something that will keep customers coming back when someone smarter with deeper pockets comes into their business space and tries to squish them like a bug. We can’t rely on patents or other such legal maneuvers. No, we need to rely on customer service for our customers to stick with us and keep coming back. It’s really the best arrow in our quiver.

Most of us get so caught up in landing new business that we forget about the customers we already have. Our existing customers leave out the back door while we bring new ones in through the front door. Overall, the company loses in this revolving-door strategy. Unfortunately, most customers suffer in silence and too often businesses never know that customers are dissatisfied until they leave. By this time, it is too late.

Why another book about customer service? First, we like customers. We like them a lot. In fact, you could say that we love customers. We want them to succeed, and we want our services to contribute to that success. Second, we are in business to make money. It is impossible to give BAM!-good customer service without your business ultimately making money.

This is not another book just about customer service platitudes, such as “The customer should come first” and “The customer is always right.” This isn’t a book about great customer service stories or even horror stories. There are already too many of those stories out there. This is a book about businesses doing the right things to make money in a world that seems to be increasingly about self-service.

The move to self-service started many years ago with gas stations trying to save money (and lower prices) by having customers pump their own gas. It now extends to checking in at airports and checking out at grocery stores. Internet shopping has taught us to be extremely self-reliant consumers.

But a big part of the reason we are self-sufficient is that Web sites (at least the really good ones) are designed to make it easy and intuitive for us to shop for ourselves and by ourselves. Consumers aren’t looking for handholding; they are looking for ease and efficiency.

Mary Jane recently went through a TSA checkpoint at O’Hare airport. When she commented to the TSA officer that the bins were in the wrong place and thus holding up the line, the TSA officer responded, “We just do the screenings; if you want to get through the checkpoint, you have to HUSTLE yourself.” She was stunned and went to the plane thinking that interacting with machines (the Internet, kiosks, gas pumps) really is often preferable to interacting with many people who represent companies.

Why BAM!? There are plenty of myths and platitudes about customer service that every business gets caught up in with posters around their offices. “Take care of the customer and they’ll take care of you.” “Good customer service is free.” “Good customer service is common sense.” We don’t subscribe to these. Our customers aren’t always right. If common sense produced good customer service, we would see more of it, and good customer service is never free. But it can be worth every dollar a company spends—if the company spends it right.

We are a practical pair, and this book expresses our combined experience with our own companies and in the companies we have worked for and with. It is about attitudes and actions that produce a level of customer service that will keep your customers coming back and cause them to tell your friends that your business is a good one to do business with.

Most companies say they want to deliver good customer service, but too many companies don’t deliver the quality of customer service they say they want to deliver and that their customers want and expect. In BAM!, we talk about those things that prevent companies from carrying this out–people, systems, and attitudes.

We will help companies and customers see that good customer service is a two-way relationship. We present a dollars-and-cents case for why caring about customer service is essential for both companies and their customers, and we help readers understand how company and customer expectations get so confused and mismatched.

This book helps readers figure out what they really believe about customer service. It offers ways to understand what the customer wants and needs. It teaches business owners and employees how to line up their beliefs with what their customers want, and provides specific actions they can take to deliver what their companies need.

We will recommend a customer service manifesto—a two-way agreement between companies and their customers. We will identify the barriers to both delivering and receiving good customer service and offer a tactical approach for both companies and consumers.

Remember: Everyone is somebody’s customer.