During the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign Ross Perot famously referred to a “giant sucking sound” of U.S. jobs heading to Mexico when NAFTA went into effect.  If you’re not careful, that giant sucking sound could be your customer service.

Despite unparalleled interest in delivering customer service (2/3 of large North American companies according to a Temkin Group survey) the #1 obstacle to doing so is “competing priorities”.  What this says, quite simply, is that our customer service efforts are merely lip service.  If we don’t invest in our people and our service, it stands to reason that customer service will suffer.

Luminaries in other aspects of business have pronounced simple (effective?) ways to focus their efforts.  For example, when it comes to innovation, Steve Jobs insists you “Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff” and when it comes to managing your brand, listen to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and “Make Stuff that Doesn’t Suck.”  What mantra should customer experience professionals adopt to simplify and focus our attention?  Here’s a suggestion:

Treat Customers as You Want to be Treated

We want to deal (i.e. spend) with companies that:

  1. Are easy to do business with – Make purchases simple, buying more or exchanging items is straight-forward.  Don’t include hidden costs or fees.
  2. Trust us – I had an abominable experience at a Polo store not too long ago.  What should have been a simple exchange turned into an exercise where I had to prove the product was defective.  The 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution may protect our innocence unless proven otherwise, but don’t count on this treatment at Ralph Lauren.
  3. Are fair to us – Fair is a tough notion to teach.  In customer service, fairness is about keeping consumers’ interests at heart.  Look out for corporate interests, but remember that in many cases, customer interests are the same as corporate interests.
  4. Are honest and informative – Can we count on the information we receive or is it likely to hide/skirt the truth?
  5. Responsive – Does the company value my business and do they act like it?  My time is important.

Customer service takes effort and it requires a focus we seem to have lost.  The pivot point is that we must invest in customer service and experience capabilities just as we invest in market development or product functionality.  When we fail to take those steps we miss out on the most cost-effective way to drive new growth and market share.  It may not be as simple as the Golden Rule, but it is a good first step which, once taken, can help service from sucking.

What mantra does your company use when describing its customer service?

What’s that Giant Sucking Sound?
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