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Bad Customer Service Exposed

Wayne Kehl | July 2, 2012


One of the United Kingdom’s top authorities on business practices, The Henley Business School has released a paper which indicates that two-thirds of all customers surveyed believe service levels of retailers and various other service-oriented businesses are at an all time low. The report goes on to say that these firms are arrogant and make no effort to understand their customers.

I must admit that I have no first-hand knowledge of business practices in the UK, but I can definitely state that I believe service levels are at an all time low in Canada and the United States. I travel extensively in both countries and have experienced some service issues that I would never have existed even twenty years ago. What I find most perplexing is that during the most economically challenging decade of the past 100 years, businesses everywhere are allowing customers to walk out their doors empty-handed while rude, lazy, disengaged employees continue to receive pay checks! So what is the problem?

Because I am in the business of leadership and personal development training, when I am faced with bad service, I attempt to analyze it and in some cases, I go so far as to point it out to the offending service provider or his/her manager. In most cases, I find businesses that provide bad service are not managed well. In fact, in extreme cases they appear not to be managed at all. Managers in many establishments have stopped being leaders. They have stopped engaging in old-fashioned, hands-on, disciplined leadership. They allow customers to be ignored, bad employee attitudes to live, and poor or non-existent service levels to be the norm.

Twenty-first century management has lost its way in many cases. Until managers start to hold their employees accountable and until managers themselves are held accountable by their bosses, service levels will continue to slide.

Although very important, leadership is about more than setting a good example. Managers should be constantly observing the behaviour of their employees and taking corrective action at the time bad service occurs. They should remove the bad service provider from the floor, away from customers as soon as it is appropriate and tell them what they did wrong.  Employees should know their responsibilities and their obligations to customers in all situations. When they fail to live up to those responsibilities, they must be reprimanded and if improvement does not occur, they should be terminated. Is that wrong? Is it wrong to demand that employees provide good service? If believing that is wrong, I must be living in the wrong century.

Managers should also be made to understand their obligations and responsibilities to customers, employees and their employer before they are allowed to manage. I can hardly believe that some of the nasty, rude, dismissive, and absent service I have witnessed, was carried out while someone with the title of manager was actually on the premises. In many of these cases, the bad service was not even isolated to one or two people. In some cases I have seen establishments with dozens of employees who seemed not to want to provide service to any customers. If you own a retail or service-oriented business, do you know what is going on with your employees? Do you care?

The typical reasons cited for bad service include “too busy, understaffed, new employees and the computers are down.” All of these are simply excuses for bad management. Most importantly, managers who give these excuses are generally poor leaders. They make excuses rather than simply owning up to their responsibilities for bad service and holding themselves accountable. Managers with poor leadership skills are also generally afraid of confrontation. Rather than disciplining a bad service provider, they tend to look the other way and hope that no one notices. Unfortunately for them, as the Henley Business School has pointed out, the world is noticing...big time!

Billions of dollars are lost to bad service world-wide every year. That trend will not improve until the retailers and other service providers take the initiative to regain control by holding managers and employees accountable for impeccable service.

I am looking forward to a future rife with great service. To that end, l would appreciate it you would send me examples of good service that you have recently experienced. Let me have the names and locations of those businesses and I will post them on this blog so that readers will know where the best service providers are. I will not however, post the names and locations of bad service providers because there are simply too many of them!

Please email your good-service examples along with your contact information to


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