The Sad State of Customer Service or How to lose customers!

The unstable economy has been the source of many understandable problems. Unfortunately when the major problems dissipate, the impact of side effects continue to grow. One glaring example is the sad state of customer service.


I like tasting wine and frequent a local wine tasting vendor. Before I go, I always check the internet for the week's selection. Recently, I looked and the page was blank so I called.

A cheery young lady answered and I asked "What wines are you tasting today?"

She responded with "I don't know" followed by silence.

Not a sorry, not "Hold on and let me check", just "I don't know."

"Is there going to be a wine tasting today?"

Silence, then "I don't know", then more silence.

So I asked, "Can you please check for me, and while your checking, could you please find out what is being poured if there is going to be a tasting?"

"OK" followed by the clunk of the receiver being dropped on the counter.

Several long seconds ticked off the clock until she returned and said "Yes." I ask "Yes what? Is there a tasting today?"

Again, nothing but "Yes."

"Do you know what is being poured?" said I.

The reply was anticipated. "No"

"OK," said I, "but your sure there is a wine tasting today at the regular time?"


Needless to say, when I arrived at said tasting site there were no wine bottles on the counter. The sommelier (I'll call him Larry) that pours was working, just not behind the tasting counter. "Larry," I said to him, "what's with the tasting today? I the website had nothing and when I called, a younger gal told me there was going to be one today."

"Not today," said Larry. "I don't know why, but we were told just this morning, no tasting today. No reason. I didn't know there was sopmethign wrong with the website."

After explaining the situation and my frustration, and multiple apologies from Larry and the manager, both of whom know me relatively well, I went home to do a private tasting.


I drive a car. That means I buy tires. I have two cars...more tires. I drive a lot of miles, even more tires. I have been quite thrilled with the tire retailers that have cropped up over the last several years. They provide great service and have tended to provide great customer service.

One Saturday a couple of weeks back I went down there, parked, went in and entered. They were swamped - the longest line I have ever seen there and the two employees behind the counter were both on the phone.

I stood in line and waited...for about 10 minutes. The same two people were behind the counter, on the phone, and the same two customers that were at the counter when I arrived were still standing there.

People came and went...mostly they went. Eventually I was able to get one of the mechanics attention as he ran into the sales area.

"Any idea how long to get my tires rotated?"

"Hour and a half, maybe two."

"Man, I can't wait that long...I'll have to come back."

"Call and make an appointment, you'll get right in."

A bit stunned, I said thanks and turned to leave for home.

When I arrived home, I called and after ringing for 2 minutes, someone hurriedly answered the phone and put me on hold before I could respond to his request to "Please hold" - click, and then music...bad music. Finally, mission accomplished - appoint Monday.

When I arrived Monday, I waited in line again, gave the guy my keys, signed the paper, sat down, took out my computer and started working.

I'm not sure how long he was gone, but at some point, fairly quickly, he came in the front door and said "your done, car's out front running" as he walked past me and threw my keys on the chair next to where I was sitting.

Again, quite taken aback at the brusqueness of his communication, I sat there for a moment, looked at him as he walked away, then methodically shut down my computer, wrapped up the power cord and put it away, along with my other materials, and went outside to my car.

The locking lug nut wrench, which I had to prove was where I said it was (in the trunk with the spare) was sitting on my seat, the car was running and the drives door was wide open. I calmly opened the trunk, put the nut back in with the spare, and drive off.

One of the many problems with this is while I want to tell someone their customer service is a problem, I don't have the time. What I have time for is to tell my friends and never go back. The value of my time and bad treatment far outweighs the $10/tire savings.

Customer Service? What Customer Service!

As I stewed over my 2nd bought of bad customer service, I ruminated over what was going on. Sales go south, money gets tight, line of credit gets cut or called, and staff is laid off. Those with the knowledge and skill to provide customer service are either gone or stretched too thin.

Then the economy starts to percolate a bit. Customers come back, activity increases, particularly shopping, and staff already stretched near the limit is pushed even farther - and nobody's happy.

Unfortunately the cash necessary to hire staff, and train them, just isn't there yet. Inventories are depleted and product is hard to find because manufacturers have sold down inventories to minimize costs.

Bottom line, the chain of events that hurt us in the fall of 2008 is still undermining our ability to ‘recover.'

The moral of this story is simple. It's pretty tough to do much of anything without feeling some discomfort from our economic flu. As a vendor, take a few minutes in the morning to talk with your staff and help them prepare for the day.

Let them know you understand how hard things have been for them and what you're doing to make things as good as possible - for them and the customers they have to deal with.

Be patient with staff, customers and shoppers. Make them feel valued and important. After all, you never know when one of those people who experienced bad customer service will be the difference between bankruptcy and survival.


Larry Mandelberg is a business consultant specializing in helping entrepreneurial companies through the go-go stage of development and become professional organizatoins.

With over 30 years experience as CEO and consultant, Mandelberg has has launched 4 start-ups, led a merger, and headed a successful turn-around. He is a frequent speaker at business events throughout the western U.S. Larry has been writing his 'Eyes on Business' column for the Sacramento Business Journ...

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