Why customer service is the first victim of a lack of purpose

Customer Service
Happy young customer service operators talking on headset, looking at camera, smiling.

Have you ever walked into a shop and had the feeling that the people who run it don’t actually like customers? Sometimes it’s just a vibe. An invisible sense of coldness from the decor or the staff’s body language. Sometimes it’s blatant. Like the fish’n’chip shop I walked into that was covered in laminated signs:

  • We don’t give tomato sauce for free!
  • No eating of takeaway food on premises!
  • Splitting of bills not allowed!
  • Don’t touch the vintage jukebox!

Their pre-emptive strikes on the customer took up more wall space than the menu board. Before I’d even made it to the counter I had the distinct impression that the owners didn’t like their business. Or, didn’t like me. Which, in a service industry, is basically the same thing. Loving fish’n’chips but hating the people who buy it is not a profitable business – it’s a costly hobby.

I thought, “Wow. You guys aren’t being true to yourselves and you’re going to fail”. Here were people running a business that didn’t suit them, that they didn’t love, that maybe even annoyed them. I believe the growth and success they’d hoped for when they started was totally compromised by this truth.

I understand that a lot of small-business owners buy a business or franchise because they’re in their 50s and have fewer job prospects. I empathise with that. But why run a business that’s going to make you unhappy?

Good customer service is hard enough already. People can be annoying. They can leave a mark on that book they were just browsing through, meaning you probably can’t sell it now. They can forget to put the sauce back in that perfectly good holder you put there for them. If you don’t have a more powerful reason for being in business than money, these inevitable annoyances can become huge, self-fulfilling barriers to success.

Customer retention so low that you’re constantly marketing to attract new ones is an expensive strategy for any size business. And because you don’t enjoy serving your customers, you’ll find it hard training anyone else to.

Countless business owners complain to me how hard it is to train young people to properly serve their customers. The cause is often the owner’s lack of authentic motivation. They have very little genuine passion to pass on to their young staff, let alone any bona fide end benefits that were true win–wins for their staff and their customers.

True purpose inspires people as humans first and employees second. It motivates people to do better at serving customer, creating new income streams and making processes more efficient.

Apple still lead the world in customer service because the staff genuinely believe their company’s mission: to find new ways that technology can advance humankind. They know that how they’re being trained to serve is authentic proof of that. It motivates them to serve well of their own volition. Not just because the boss ordered them to.

US airline Southwest delivers award-winning customer service year after year, while other discount carriers struggle to retain staff and customers, because Southwest’s purpose isn’t “To return as much money to shareholders as possible”. It’s “To become the world’s most loved and most flown airline”. They let their staff be human, encourage them to have fun and make their own decisions on the spot to help customers.

Zappo’s is the world’s No.1 online shoe retailer thanks to happy staff who deliver such awesome customer service that most of their shoppers say it feels more personal than buying in a store. That quality of service starts with owners who are authentically passionate about proving that buying online should not be an inhuman experience.

True purpose makes you resilient as an owner. Challenges to your patience and ego, like fickle customers, affect you a lot less when you feel that you’re not just making a living, you’re making a difference and progressing towards a worthy goal.

So, take a look inside yourself. If the day-to-day problems of your business are starting to make you dislike your customers, it might be time to rediscover your true purpose. You’ll not only be happier, you’ll be more profitable.

Mike Edmonds, Founder and Chairman, Meerkats Creative Business Solutions