10 Reasons Your Company May Fail at Customer Service

Why do companies fail at customer service? I read all kinds of books and articles on the topic throughout the year, and combined with my own research and observations, I've found that there are some very clear reasons.

Sometimes customer service fails because of something you do, other times because of something you’re not doing . If you follow my work , this may seem like a review, yet we must constantly be reminded of these reasons.

So while there are many, here are the 10 most common reasons that companies fail at customer service:

They don't define customer service goals

You can’t just say, “Let’s give great customer service.” You have to define what it is, what it looks like and what you want the customer to experience. It has to be crystal clear.

cartoon of employees aiming for a goal, one major cause of service failure
Good service can only take place when there are clear goals.

I just worked with a company that created a four-word mantra, as I like to call it. A short one sentence phrase that is easily understood and remembered. Put the customer first .

But, to just say it is nothing more than lip service. This company created an entire program around these words . Every employee is participating in training sessions and the effort will be ongoing, not for a few days or weeks, but hopefully for years to come.

They put good people in the wrong jobs

A customer service culture starts with the people. There are plenty of good people out there, however, some of them aren’t suited for a truly customer-focused organization.

cartoon of hand picking wrong employee
A fit between people and jobs is crucial.

It starts with hiring the right personalities to fit the culture. But, what about current employees? Make sure they buy into your customer service definition and are ready and willing to be a part of the initiative.

They don’t provide proper training

Training is not something you do one time. It’s not something you teach during orientation and never bring up again. It’s an ongoing effort.

The best companies have ongoing training to keep customer service front of mind. Employees must be knowledgeable, not just about how to deliver friendly and helpful service, but also to be prepared to answer customers’ questions.

cartoon of trained employee
Continuous customer service training is an investment with high leverage.

Knowledge creates confidence and trust. If you want to destroy credibility, put untrained people on the front line. Employees may not have all the answers, but make sure they are properly trained to know who to ask or where to find the correct information.

They treat customer service like a department

For a truly customer-focused culture to work, everyone has to be aware of how they impact the customer’s experience.

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One of my favorite sayings has always been that customer service is not a department . It’s a philosophy to be embraced by every employee, from the CEO to the most recently hired.

They treat employees one way and expect them to treat customers a different way

The behavior of leadership and management toward employees is often incongruent with the customer service initiative.

cartoon of boss sheltering his employee
Take care of your employees, and they will take care of you.

The remedy is my Employee Golden Rule, which is to treat employees like you want the customer to be treated – maybe even better . Employees will have an example to follow as they interact with the customer, and, maybe even more importantly, they will feel valued and be motivated to deliver good service and help the company succeed.

They are hard to find

Customers have questions. Sometimes they have complaints. How easy is it for your customers to contact you?

Make it easy by providing clear contact information including phone number, live chat, email address, social channel, etc. This is especially important if all or part of your business is conducted online. Customers shouldn’t have to search through multiple pages on your website to find an address or phone number.

screenshot of live chat
Showing up, for example through live chat on your website, is half the work.

If you want an example to follow, check out Zappos.com . Although it's an online-only retail business, a phone number is posted on virtually every page of its website.

They ignore customers on social media

Smart companies see social media sites as a way to engage with customers – and not just the ones who complain.

Engaging with the customer is a great public relations strategy, and its effect is multiplied on social media where your customers’ posts – and your replies – are out there for everyone to see. And while you should respond to compliments as well as complaints, a timely response is most essential when a customer posts about a problem or issue.

They don't value the customer’s time

My father taught me long ago that being late is disrespectful. Whether you are late for an appointment or with a response to a customer, it gives the impression that you believe you are more important, or that your time is more valuable.

cartoon of a victim of time
Speed is one of the core principles of good service.

There are several ways that companies fail to value the customer’s time

  • Putting them on hold for too long
  • Not resolving issues quickly
  • Not responding to complaints on social media (as mentioned above)
  • Etc.

Acting with urgency gives the customer a feeling of confidence. And if you can’t solve a problem on the spot, communicate to the customer what you plan to do and when the issue will be resolved.

They don’t offer self-service solutions

Customers today want and expect self-service options. They find that self-service is often quicker and easier than a traditional call for support, so offering these options can be another way to show that you value their time.

cartoon of guy holding a key
Help your customers help themselves.

Self-service solutions can include a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on your website, forums where customers can discuss your products and help answer questions, or a YouTube channel with instructional how-to videos about assembling or using a product.

They fail to express appreciation

This is basic, but surprisingly, it happens more often than it should (which is never).

I always notice when I make a purchase at a store and the cashier doesn’t say thank you. I might even say “thank you” as I prepare to walk away, hoping that it will prompt the same in return, but sadly, the cashier often fails to take the hint.

Showing appreciation by at least saying thank you is so easy to do. Customers want and deserve to feel appreciated. Say thank you!

cartoon of man making a heart with his hands
Show sincere appreciation.

As you read this list of customer service mistakes, perhaps something struck a chord. Is your company guilty of a lapse in one or more of these customer service basics? If so, it’s time to focus your attention on the problem area – with a little effort, you can turn customer service failure into customer service success!