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Next Level Customer Service Blog

News, tips, and trends to help you reach that next level of customer service.


The lazy customer service manager

I’m feeling a bit lazy. My mission is to write this blog post, but I really don’t want to invest the effort necessary to write a good one. The way I see it, I have three options:

  1. Republish something I’ve already written for someone else
  2. Embed a funny YouTube video that somehow makes a point about service
  3. Draw inspiration from someone else.

Let’s go with option 3 because I already have someone in mind: The Lazy Customer Service Manager. Before I go on, please excuse any snarkiness. I’m too lazy to edit that out today.


The Lazy Customer Service Manager: A Profile

I’ve met a lot of customer service managers. The great ones work tirelessly to help their team deliver world class service and the results speak for themselves.

The lazy ones work tirelessly to find shortcuts. Most of those shortcuts don’t work. Their results speak for themselves too.

Here are a few examples.

Perfect Attendance Awards

The idea behind this motivational gimmick is that people need extra motivation to come to their lousy jobs on a regular basis. This seems to be especially popular in call centers. Perhaps this is because very few people have ever said, “You work in a call center?! Is it as glamorous as it sounds?”

The lazy manager thinks, “I know how to solve our absenteeism problem. We’ll create a perfect attendance award where everyone who has perfect attendance for a month will be entered into a drawing. The winners of the drawing will get to spin a prize wheel for a chance to win fabulous prizes such as candy, gift cards, and (ironically) a day off with pay.”

That was a real example. I so wish I was making this up.

Great customer service managers take a slightly different approach. They focus on making the workplace a great place to be so people will naturally want to come to work. 

Suggestion Boxes

There are a number of reasons why the lazy manager will put out a suggestion box. Perhaps the manager read an article somewhere that the best companies ask their employees for input. Maybe Office Depot is having a sale on suggestion boxes. It could be that the manager is just looking for a way to get employees to stop complaining directly to him. The possibilities are endless.

One lazy manager I knew thought he was enlightened when he promised to post a written response to each suggestion on the team bulletin board. This practice quickly stopped when the vast majority of suggestions turned out to be complaints about working conditions, co-workers, and even the boss.

Again, I really wish I was making this up.

Great customer service managers skip the suggestion box and talk to their employees on a regular basis. They recognize that a true “open door” policy requires them to walk through their door and create an environment where employees will be comfortable enough share their candid opinions.

Incidentally, I did Google “suggestion box” as part of my exhaustive research for this blog post. Sharlyn Lauby has a good post on her HR Bartender blog called 7 Considerations for Suggestion Box Programs.

The Angry Memo

Serious customer service issues can sometimes arise. The lazy manager often addresses these issues via an angry memo that’s emailed to everyone on the team or perhaps posted on a bulletin board. Typically, only one or two people on the team are actually to blame, but the lazy manager finds it safer to get everyone involved rather than speak privately with the people who really need to hear the message.

One example comes from a restaurant in Boston where the owner allegedly posted this memo on an employee bulletin board in response to a bevy of customer complaints:

“You are the LOSERS!!!” … “Change or be changed. Please, don’t force your termination for the holidays.”

You can read more about the story on Patrick Maguire’s I’m Your Server Not Your Servant blog.

Great customer service managers skip the angry memo and constructively address issues as soon as they arise. For example, a customer complaint might be treated as a learning experience and met with a discussion on ways to improve service quality.

What are other characteristics of a lazy customer service manager?

Some might call this last part lazy since I’m basically asking you to finish this post for me by leaving your comments. I prefer to call it crowd-sourcing.

Whatever the term, please do share your own examples of signs that a customer service manager is being lazy.


They have a job, so why do they blog?

There are a lot of people who actively share their thoughts about customer service via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other online platforms. Most of them, including me, are consultants, speakers, or authors. It stands to reason that people like us would actively share our voice online. After all, we’re trying to get the word out.

But what motivates people who already have a job working for someone else?

To learn the answer, I reached out to four internal employees who are all prolific contributors to the online discussion about customer service.


Jenny Dempsey and Jeremy Watkin

Jenny and Jeremy are part of the customer service team at Jenny is the Customer Service Supervisor and self-described mascot while Jeremy is the Director of Customer Service. 

The two of them embody the spirit of customer service on their fabulous Communicate Better Blog. It features insights into the service they provide their own customers at plus examples from other companies and frequent guest posts. They also Tweet from @commbetterblog.

Jenny and Jeremy told me they are active online because it helps them learn, it adds purpose to their work, and helps them define their service culture at


Jeremy: “When you stop and think about it, everyone has customers and there is customer service both good and bad going on all around us. What an amazing opportunity to learn! Selfishly, this exercise helps me be a better husband, father, employee, coworker, boss and friend to my customers as I learn to serve better.“

Jenny: "I do this because I want to help others in the best way I possibly can. I want to learn and grow and be totally awesome at helping others!"


Jenny: “Writing this blog gives me a sense of purpose at my job and in life (sounds cheesy, but it does). It opens my eyes to the fact I’m doing something bigger than just answering a call or writing an email. I am ridiculously inspired on a daily basis.”


Jeremy: “I do want to help build a customer-centric culture at and find that this is a fantastic way to inspire our customer service team. I talk a lot about "awesome" customer service. Still others on our team are excited to contribute guest posts and comments about what they are learning about customer service. Even more exciting is when people in other departments in our company read our blog and talk about how they are changing the way they approach their customers.”


Annette Franz (Gleneicki)

Annette serves as Director, Customer Experience Management Strategy at Confirmit.

Her entertaining and informative CX Journey blog focuses on customer experience. She’s not afraid to be provocative and I like that I agree with her perspective most of the time, but not always. She often uses personal stories backed by research to make her point and also includes guest bloggers on a regular basis. Annette also Tweets from @cxjourney and @annettefranz.

I wasn’t surprised to learn Annette’s top two reasons for sharing her thoughts online since it’s evident in her style, but she has several more great reasons too.

  • I love to write!
  • I’m passionate about what I do.
  • I’m building my personal brand.
  • Blogging is a way to share my learnings and experiences from the last 20+ years.
  • While there are many of us who do what I do, I think there is power in numbers. The more of us who try to get the message out, the better.
  • It allows me to help others that I might not otherwise meet through my corporate role/position; from students to start-ups to corporate practitioners, I’ve met, answered questions for, and provided guidance one-on-one to people who follow me on social media and are regular readers of my blog.
  • It’s a great way to meet like-minded individuals and to learn from others.


Bill Quiseng

Bill is the Resort Manager at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club in Oahu, Hawaii.

If you wanted to use Twitter as tool for keeping up with the latest customer service trends, you could follow Bill Quiseng (@billquiseng) and do quite well. That’s because Bill is constantly sharing and re-Tweeting great customer service ideas and content. He also does an amazing job populating his Facebook page with interesting topics and discussions too.

Bill views sharing customer service lessons with others as a way of paying it forward for the all the great mentoring he’s received in his career.

“I really have enjoyed my 35 years in the hospitality industry, almost all of that time in the luxury resort segment. I have been mentored by some of the very best general managers of luxury resorts. And those GM's all taught the same key lesson:

With only slight differences in the product or setting between our resort and our competitors, the key differentiators are in the personalized service our front line associates deliver and the overall guest experience we create through their collective guest interactions.

I write to serve as a mentor to those who want to perfect their delivery of the customer experience. As a person reads each blog post, they learn a little more, until over time, they become masters of customer service. And that is how I'd like to "pay it forward" for a lifetime career of having learned from some of the very best in delivering an exceptional customer experience. 


These people are real pros

Writing a blog post like this is often a numbers game. You ask a lot of people you’d like to hear from knowing only a handful will respond.

This group is different. These four are the only people I reached out to because I knew they’d reply quickly and thoughtfully. They’re all true customer service professionals whose passion for sharing and helping others is authentic, and I truly appreciate their contributions.


Three terrific thought leader panels from ACCE 2013

ICMI's ACCE 2013 conference for call center professionals was a customer service extravaganza and a terrific learning experience (see my re-cap here). 

One of the best features of the conference was the Thought Leaders Discussion Table. It consisted of a rotating group of panelists who engaged in fifteen minute, freeform discussions on a variety of call center topics ranging from technology to social media. 

I was fortunate enough to moderate the first three panels:

Panel #1
Panelists included Tiffany LaReau of Human Numbers, Todd Hixon of Intuit, and Bob Furniss of Bluewolf. They kicked things off right with a great discussion on social media.


Click here if you can't see the video.

Panel #2
Panelists included Katy Wild of Freeman, Ben Paganelli of VIA Unlimited, and Lou Paduto of Satori Software. Incidentally, Lou and I will be co-facilitating a webinar on reducing call center stress on Thursday, June 20.

Click here if you can't see the video.

Panel #3
Panelists included Clare Wenham of New Voice Media, Tristan Barnum of Telcentris, Ruben Moffett of TantaComm, and Dave Bethers of TCN. And yes, astute readers will recognized that a story from Clare Wenham helped inspire my post on how companies are training customers to complain via Twitter.

Click here if you can't see the video.


How a corporate policy crushed service

We often concentrate on the individuals serving us when we think about service quality. But what happens when dumb corporate policies hinder employees’ ability to serve?

This is one of those stories. 

My wife, Sally, recently bought a Tumi briefcase. They’re more expensive than typical bags, but they have a reputation for outstanding quality.

Unfortunately, this bag didn’t live up to that reputation as a zipper pull tore off after just a few weeks.

Sally brought her bag back to the Tumi store so it could be repaired under warranty. She was told it could take up to four weeks because they had to ship the bag back to their repair center in New York.

Losing her briefcase for a month wasn’t an option, so Sally spoke to the store manager in hopes of finding a more acceptable alternative.

Could they give her a loaner bag? No.
Could they give her a new bag? No.
Could Sally get the bag repaired locally and send Tumi the bill? No.

These policies were clearly created by a spreadsheet jockey. They appeared to be the model of efficiency from an aggregate, corporate point of view while completely missing how nonsensical they were in this type of situation.

The store manager was very friendly and I think she really wanted to help. But she was also determined to adhere to the corporate repair policy.

Sticking to these policies cost Tumi a few things:

  • Sally won’t buy a Tumi product again.
  • I was in the market for a new suitcase but ruled out Tumi too.
  • Negative word of mouth.

She eventually left the store without getting her bag fixed. The broken zipper pull was an annoying reminder of Tumi’s poor service every time she traveled.

Sally took her bag to Index Urban in San Diego last Saturday to get repaired. She knew she’d have to pay for the service, but it was worth it to get her bag back in just a couple of days.  I went with her because I still needed a new suitcase.

John, the owner, greeted us when we came in. He wrote up a repair bill for Sally’s bag and then helped me pick out a new suitcase. I went with a Briggs & Riley. They’re expensive like Tumi’s, but unlike Tumi they come with a real lifetime guarantee. And, I know I can take it back to Index Urban if anything does happen because they do repairs onsite.

We were happy customers at this point, but John sweetened the deal by throwing in monogrammed luggage tags for both of us.

The repair technician was off until Monday and John promised to give Sally a call once the technician had a chance to look at the bag. He surprised her with a call early Monday afternoon letting her know the bag had already been repaired. Even better was John waived the repair fee because he felt bad about our experience with Tumi!

Unlike the Tumi store manager, John wasn’t constrained by inflexible corporate policies because he was also the owner. Here’s how that paid off:

  • I bought a suitcase.
  • All of our future luggage purchases will come from Index Urban.
  • Positive word of mouth.

We can’t all be the owner, but I wonder how much better service would be if more employees were empowered to act like John? I do know that Tumi would still have two customers.


Connecting rapport to five star service

I often write about service failures and what we can learn about them. This post is about the other side of the coin. Specifically, I want to share ways that building rapport can have an inordinate on customers’ perceptions of service quality.

First, let’s define rapport.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, rapport is a “relation marked by harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity.” In a customer service context, this involves connecting with customers in a way that causes them to see you as a real, likeable person.

Operationalizing Rapport

Terms like rapport can be a bit squishy, making it hard to observe, quantify, and even train. One way to operationalize the definition of rapport is to count how often people mention someone by name in the comments section of your customer service survey.

I started noticing a very specific trend around names while helping a client analyze their customer satisfaction data. Their survey had an overall satisfaction question where customers were asked to rate their service on a three-point scale:

  • Above Expectations
  • At Expectations
  • Below Expectations

A definite pattern emerged when I separated the comments section by rating. Individual employees were mentioned by name much more frequently when customers gave their service an “Above Expectations” score. Here’s the distribution for one of the groups I worked with:

Just for fun, I analyzed the Yelp reviews for my favorite Italian restaurant, Antica Trattoria. Their overall rating is 4.0 stars with slightly more than half the reviews giving 5 stars. However, you’ll see a familiar pattern if you look at the reviews that mentioned an Antica Trattoria employee by name:

Will this trend hold up when you analyze your own voice of customer data? I don’t know, but it is worth a look.

Barriers to Rapport

If rapport is highly correlated to outstanding service, why doesn’t it happen more often? One explanation might be that customer service professionals face a number of barriers that can make rapport-building difficult.

  1. Speed. It’s hard to build rapport when employees are in a hurry.
  2. Skill. Many people simply don’t know how to build rapport with customers.
  3. Sales. It’s really hard to like an overly aggressive salesperson.
  4. Task-focus. Rapport takes a hit when tasks are prioritized over service.
  5. Customers. Some customers are jerks and resist rapport.

Are there other barriers that I missed? What do you see?

How to Build Rapport

You’ll have to remove these barriers if you want your employees to build more rapport with customers. Here are three simple steps to help your employees become rapport-building champions.

Step 1: Look at the Data

Review your customer satsifaction data to see how rapport might be impacting service quality. Do you see evidence of greater rapport in your top box survey scores? Are some employees consistently mentioned in customer service surveys while others are not?

Step 2: Observe

You can learn a lot by assessing the current situation before doing any tinkering. Watch your employees serve customers. Can you observe any of the barriers to rapport mentioned above?

Step 3: Engage the Team

Share your observations with your employees and ask them to help you find solutions. You might be surprised at how many good ideas your team can come up with. You’ll also notice they are more like to implement ideas that are their own.

In many cases, employees just need a little bit of training to help become more adept at building rapport. One of my favorite exercises is called the five question technique. It’s based on the idea that having a short list of conversation starting questions at the ready can make anyone seem like a rapport-building pro.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Ask employees to brainstorm a list of five rapport-building questions.
  2. Have employees practice using these questions with customers.
  3. At least one of these questions will be effective in almost any situation.

You can learn more about this and other rapport building tips in my customer service idea bank.