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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.

Reader Comments (12)

The Golden Rule (Lazy management 101)

Everyone, regardless of faith, has heard the cliché “The Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would want done onto you” or some version of the phrase. This is the lazy cop out methodology of helping your support or customer service staff help your customers. When you say this to your organization or your customer service representatives, it is essentially saying “Keep doing what you are doing, because you believe you are doing your best, and I do not know how else to help you.” Obviously, the intent is good, but its impact is weak. If you want your organization to provide exceptional service, you need to detail what exceptional service is, in detail. If you need further info, the beacon of setting standards is the Ritz Carlton, and their list of standards.

June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Pace


Great post but you were lazy ;). You missed two huge points.

First, according to Gallup, an incredible two-thirds of working folks in America don’t want to be there! They’ve been completely disengaged for over ten years. This is like Zombieland customer service. They could care less about the company’s latest customer service initiative. “We Care About You, Ms. Customer…Really We Do!” goes in one ear and out the other because the disengaged employee isn’t even in the conversation. Hell, they’re hardly in the building.

Second, and even more painful, is the fact that we are rapidly shifting to a part-time worker economy to comply with the new world of the Affordable Health Care Act. This means that a typical front-liner will be working two or three part-time gigs just to stay afloat. How is the latest customer service rah-rah going to work in this situation? The employee is really thinking, “Look, this guy doesn’t care about me enough to keep me coming in here fulltime but he want me to ‘super-serve” these customers? C’mon.”

So, we’ve got cultural and socio-economic pressures bearing down on the customer service manager who may be wondering why bother about trying to even drive up a NPS score that seems woefully out of touch with how to manage this low-paid, part-time people? This is not to excuse it (far from it) but I believe these are gut-level issues that need to be addressed as well. One solution: begin to teach people to think like entrepreneurs, or at least successful free-lancers. If the relationship is changed to one of being self-employed customer service professionals the entire conversation is changed. (Yes, that’s much easier said than done but I’m too lazy to think of any other ways!)


June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Wall

Michael - you make a great point about a lack of a clear definition. My own research reveals that only 62% of companies have made an attempt to define outstanding service. The picture looks even bleaker when you dig deeper to see whether employees share the same understanding.

June 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeff Toister

Thanks for commenting, Chuck. You say lazy, I say crowd-sourcing. Tomato, tomato. (I realize the effect of the whole tomato, tomato thing may be lost in writing.) :)

Truthfully, you are very right that there are a lot of pressures on managers and employees alike that can make customer service difficult. I don't believe you are making excuses at all -- it's just important to understand what's really driving behavior.

The good news is that there are some fantastic managers that routinely overcome these challenges. I only wish there were more people in this category. Or maybe I don't, since that might put us both out of business.

June 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeff Toister

Not to sound like an idealist but I really do believe that most employees want to do good work that they can be proud of. Effective managers draw out this innate human desire in the form of higher productivity and engagement levels and lower absenteeism and turnover. Lazy/inept managers squelch this desire and, by their actions, fan the flames of employee discontent and foster a stagnant work environment (devoid of curiosity and growth) where customers are processed, each one like the last one.

The best managers are not critics. They are mentors. In the words of author, Chip Bell: "The best mentors recognize that they are facilitators and catalysts in a process of discovery and insight." The most effective way, in my opinion, to initiate this process of discovery, is for managers to acknowledge and validate two halves of every employee's job role: job function (the "What?" and the "How?") and job essence (the "Why?"). Most employees are very clear about their job function but job essence is often left to chance...

Earlier this week, I posted a blog about getting your work team on the same page with respect to its definition of customer service. This is a good place to begin a thoughtful conversation about job essence - why we do what we do. If you're interested, here's the post:

This also speaks to your research re: only 62% of companies have made an attempt to define customer service. Even that figure seems generous. To me, it appears as though 38% are talking about customer service (and about half of those companies are executing well). The other 62% appear to not be having ANY such conversations because they're too busy focusing exclusively on job function.

Thank you, Jeff, as always, for furthering the conversation about improving customer service quality!

June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Curtin

Hey Jeff, It looks like I get to be the first customer service manager to admit that I have attempted all of this stuff and guess what? I'm not doing any of it any more because it didn't work. I'm not sure I would call it so much laziness as I would call it "Stuck in a box customer service manager." In some ways my blog is about getting out of that box and doing everything I can to promote a culture of awesome customer service. We are very much in process and I'm excited about what the other side looks like.

Thank you for a great post and for involving your readers!


June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Watkin

Steve - I think you are absolutely right that effective managers try to bring out the best in their people. And this is hard, hard work that never seems to end. It's also worth it.

As to my research on companies defining outstanding service -- you may be right that the figure is high. But then again, the 62% number includes the many companies that created their definition in a marketing meeting or executive retreat and never really did anything with it after that. I'd wager that employee awareness is actually much lower than the 4 out 5 my survey revealed (5 being "high employee awareness").

June 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeff Toister

Jeremy - If you can keep a secret, I once did many of those things too. I think you make a good point about being stuck in a box and that certainly comes into play. And, from reading your blog, I don't believe for a minute you fall into the lazy manager category right now.

I do see a paradox in how managers use their time. You can work hard now or work harder later. The problem with working hard now to do all that's necessary to help your team be great at service is it takes time managers often don't think they have. The bigger problem with not putting in the work is you'll have to work even harder to fix problems, deal with upset customers, and handle poor employee performance.

June 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeff Toister

I too have attempted many of the things you referenced, and in some cases they can work! With anything though, they are simply components of an overall strategy, and not the easy answer. Here's my frustration with "lazy" managers...they forget that there are people behind every metric. Lazy managers focus and manage only on the numbers and don't take the time to understand the motivation behind their people and their behaviors. Contact centers are a people business at the core and it's imperative that managers start and end their leadership there.

July 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Stealey Reed

Jeff, that is a great insight regarding working hard now or harder later. I work in a relatively small customer service operation of roughly 25 agents and find it way easier to react to the situations of the day and put out fires when I should be thinking ahead. What you said reminds me of the importance of discipline to balance between handling the short term and planning for the long term.

July 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Watkin

Sarah -- that's a great reminder. And, each person is individual which makes it even more complicated.

July 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeff Toister

Jeremy - do you read Annette Franz's CX Journey blog? She had a great post yesterday that talks about the challenge of fighting fires all day:

July 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterJeff Toister

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