CUSTOMER SERVICE: PART I of … however many it takes to make a point!

Nothing upsets me more than to feel like I haven’t received even marginal customer service.

QUESTION: Which is Worse? Receiving no customer service, or bad customer service?

ANSWER: To me, they’re one in the same.

Today’s post is an official soapbox of the Design Guy. There is no excuse for the lack of, or a replacement for, common decency and manners, which are the basic blocks from which one builds customer service.

And please do not say, “This is California, we don’t say ‘Yes Sir’ and ‘Yes Mam’.

Because I’ll say to that, bull shit!

Let’s start with the basics:

Here’s what Wikipedia says about customer service: Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.

According to Jamier L. Scott, “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.

Customer service should be provided by a person (e.g., sales and service representative). It says a person; not a computer, not a list of questions, and not an email.

In the book Rules to Break and Laws to Follow, it says that “customers have memories. They will remember you, whether you remember them or not.” Further, “Customer trust can be destroyed at once by a major service problem, or it can be undermined one day at a time, with a thousand small demonstrations of incompetence.”

From the point of view of an overall sales process, customer service plays an important role in an organization’s ability to generate income and revenue. From that perspective, customer service should be included as part of an overall approach to systematic improvement.

I’m one of the most fortunate salesman in the world having been afforded the opportunity to train under some of the worlds most famous salesman/saleswoman. First I benefited from the extraordinary sales training at the venerable Neiman Marcus department store upon graduating from college and entering the Executive Training Program established by retail great, Stanley Marcus (affectionately known as Mr. Stanley).

The next, was my mentor in Real Estate, Ebby Halliday, owner of the largest independently owned real estate company in the world, also based in Dallas ( If there was a Mr. Stanley in real estate, it would have been in the form of Miss Ebby. I’m so proud to be espousing what I learned from these two great sales people.

I was told this early on in my retail career: A customer who has a good, or even great experience with your store, may or may not tell anyone about it. But, a customer who has a bad experience with your store will tell everyone they know. Nothing has more true than that, as I’ve watched myself do that very thing.

Take this example as an experiment and see for yourself: Watch your own discussions about customer service, taking note of how often you’re in a conversation where your relating bad customer service experience, versus that of a good customer service experience.

Customer service stories are like an evening news broadcast or a morning papers headlines, good thing don’t attract viewership or readership; but tragedy, loss, scandal, do.

It’s the same for business, good things are rarely made mention of; but be certain that the bad things will be shared.

One often hears that the quality and level of customer service has decreased, or is non-existent in recent years, and if so, it has be attributed to a lack of support or understanding at the executive and middle management levels of a corporation and/or a customer service policy.

Here’s a real life example:

I’m was at a Starbucks in Santa Fe, NM, and I ordered a Latte. I wait. And I wait.

I walked over to the counter and saw that there was a drink sitting there.

“Is this my latte?” I asked the barista.

He looked up from a steaming pitcher of milk, and furrowed his brow. Without making eye contact with me he said, “I called your name.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” I said, and picked up my drink.

Then I said, “Thank you.”

There was no response from the barista, and still no eye contact.

“Humm,” I muttered to myself.

“Excuse me, I said thank you,” I repeated still standing in front of him.

He looked up from behind the machine, loooked towards me, but not at me, and almost inaudibly said, “No problem.”

I stood there, staring at him for a moment, and then asked him, “Why would you say that?”

“Say what?” he asked, clearly irritated, his eyes finally locking onto mine.

“No problem,” I answered. “Why would you say ‘no problem’ when I said ‘thank you’?”

“What? What should I say?” he asked.

“You’re welcome,” I answered him.

“Why would I say that?” he asked.

“Because it’s polite.”

I left the store, resisting the urge to shake my head in disgust.

What I should have said was this:

I’m a customer and I’m patronizing the business where you work. My doing business with your store pays your salary, and keeps the doors open, thereby insuring that you have a place to work. Therefore, it’s incumbent on you, as an employee of this business, to thank me for my business. You should have said “thank you” to me upon serving my drink. At the very least you should have said “you’re welcome” when I said “thank you.”

I would finish my diatribe by asking him, “Got it?”

Do you know what this guy would say about eye contact…

And if I could get to the Starbucks manager for that store, I would finish the paragraph above with, “Is there any question as to this lesson in ‘Business Customer Service 101’?”


Here’s a question for you, my readers:
QUESTION: Now, from where does this problem stem? The parents?

ANSWER: Yes, at the very least.

But, since I’m talking business here, I won’t focus on the “P-Units” (as my daughter refers to us as her parents)…but only for the moment!

The problem with the barrista lies with his boss. A Chinese proverb holds that, “A fish rots from the head down.” So if the store is the fish, then the boss is the head of the fish, and the fish rots down to the barrista.

I can understand a kid not knowing basic rules of etiquette if he’s had bores for parents on the manners front.

What I cannot accept is a manager not properly training an employee. That’s right, the problem lies with the manager, and there’s no excuse for him.

The manager will whine: “It’s hard to get good employees!”

To which I say: Deal with it. If it’s hard to get good employees, then train your own. As my mentor said to me once, “grow your own (employees).” I get that.

But I had to ask her, “How do I grow my own?”

PHOTO: Texas Real Estate legend, Ebby Halliday

Here are some ways that I “grow my own”: I have sales meetings every week. All employees are required to be there, from the Designers and Sales Associates to the Delivery Team; they’re all present. The sales meeting is designed to assure that every employee hears the same thing. Each person is cross-trained in order to ensure that our customer’s experience the same level of care and service that they experienced on the sales floor, all the way through their experience with our delivery department.

We discuss proper greetings to customers, acknowledgement of the customer’s presence in our stores, respect for the customer’s personal space while they’re in our store, how to listen to the customer’s request, and how to properly deal with a customer who calls on the telephone while we’re dealing with a customer who is physically in the store. And, we teach them how to properly thank the customer sincerely for their business, and then to follow up with a hand written thank you note to the customer after the sale.

We teach about product quality and construction to all of our employees. If a sales meeting is focused on a recent market buy, we show photos of the furniture that were purchased, the fabric, and the finish. We pass the actual fabric sample around for everyone to touch. We discuss the styling, the fabric content, and the price, for both the furniture and the fabric. Some fabrics cost as much as $650/per yard, so it’s important that everyone know this and why, especially the delivery crew, as they’re the ones who will be handling it. Our delivery crews are taught to understand their importance to the entire selling process, and are always included in the sales meeting.

So, am I asking too much of our employees?

Absolutely, not!

Everything written above (and much more that isn’t) is basic to my concept of “Management 101”, and should be included in every training manual on the planet in one form or another.


To learn more about Ebby Halliday, read her new book, Ebby Halliday, The First Lady of Real Estate.

It’s her autobiography, recently penned by this 98 year old dynamo, who still drives herself to the office everyday!

I love this lady!


As I researched customer service, I Googled “Starbucks Customer Service Training”, and got pages of sites. As I went through at least 25 sites, not one of the customer service articles, either by Starbucks or some other entity, featured customer service as it refers to politeness and proper handling of customers. Most sites focused on Starbucks training of barista’s, not as in proper etiquette, but in proper preparation of the drinks.

Not one of the sites focused on how to teach employees or barsita’s to remain cool under pressure in high traffic times or locations, and there wasn’t a word on any of the listings about good old manners. Not a single word!

So here’s what I learned about Starbucks customer service training for their employees: Their main focus is to give the customer the exact same experience each time that customer is in the store. So, if you get some punk kids with no manners running one of their stores, then you can be ensured of having the same lousy experience every time you visit that store.

What a brilliant plan!


Join me for, “Customer Service, Part II,” coming soon!

Good night moon e can fix this! And, it starts with me, and you. Please j me for the next article on Customer Service,night moon

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