‘it was good for me’

My mom sent me an email the other day which I thought was really brilliant.

So many businesses set things up so it will be easier for them as a business – with no thought of how it might be for their clients (or for the environment or the rest of the world for that matter). It’s a very selfish focus. In the worst cases this can lead to slavery and exploitation and in the least intense situations it’s terrible customer service.

They set up those long voice mail systems of ‘press one if you want this, press two if you want that’ and ‘enter your phone number now’ and then the very first question they ask you when you get on the phone is ‘what’s your phone number?’

Enough to drive a person mad.

So much bad customer service comes down to this: seeing things through our own eyes as business owners and not through the eyes of the customer. And, of course, we need to honour both.

But, it’s critical to really step back and ask yourself, ‘how would it be to go through the process I’m asking my customers to go through?’

I’ve heard of CEO’s who shop anonymously in their own stores just to see what it’s like, or who call their own customer service to see how they are treated.

Here’s what my mom had to say – I bet you can relate:

Several times in the last few weeks, I have come up against this realization: I get how this is good for [insert name here]; I don’t get how it helps me as the customer.


When the iPhone4 came out, the policy of the Apple Store was (finally — for a while they just had people line up) was to book appointments for people who wanted to upgrade their current cell phone service with an iPhone4. BUT, you could *only* book that day, and it had to be in person. No appointments for tomorrow, or the next day. If you arrived at the store at 10:00 am, you might get an appointment for 2:00 pm. What do you do in the meantime? (Specifically, what do *I* do — you heard me deliver this rant, I believe). I got that it helped them to control the flow of customers in the face of an erratic supply and limited customer service staff. I really didn’t get how it helped me. In fact, I very nearly gave up entirely, but Kevin prompted me one more time and it turned out that Rogers finally had them in stock. So, Apple nearly lost a customer over that one.

Automated dialing for solicitation: I get that this is great for the company, especially if they can attach a computerized announcement. Click “start” and the process takes care of itself. I really don’t get how it helps me when I have to interrupt what I am doing to answer the phone, only to hear a computer talking about something I neither need nor want.

Adobe keeps all the help files for its programs online. I get how this is easier and cheaper for them: they don’t need to print or ship bulky documents with their products and they can, at the same time, provide community support access. This one is a two-parter. I don’t get how online help is better than electronic help attached to the program, residing on my computer. I *particularly* don’t get how online help is better for me with my satellite connection. I am really tired of big companies assuming that everyone in the world has zippy, problem-free internet access.

You get the idea — and you can probably think up a bunch of your own examples.


Another example that comes to mind:

I went to get sushi years ago at a fastfood sushi place. I ordered an avocado/cucumber roll. He said he couldn’t make it. “Oh,” I said. “Are you out of avocado?” No, he replied. They had avocado. “So . . . you’re out of cucumber?” No. They had that too. But he explained that he couldn’t make it for me since it wasn’t on the menu. “I’m to pay extra?” He again said he couldn’t. “Can I speak to your manager?” He said I could but that his manager had punished him for making non menu items before. I was amazed. I get that this keeps things easier for the manager but it renders his workers bound with no flexibility to delight their customers.

Before you implement any policy, procedure or systems – ask yourself: would this make my life better as a customer?


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About Tad

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  • Running into this problem with http://www.meetup.com. Their new changes have upset people to the point of looking for alternatives to host their groups, some have already closed. As an advertiser I’m watching closely to see what happens. Hopefully they’ll listen to the countless complaints. Also, a networking group I went to a meeting for they had no idea how to reach their target market, because they didn’t test to see the most effective means.

    Tim Ferris and Ramit Sethi always say TEST before you release anything. Before 4hww was released Tim placed mock ups of different covers on to books at Borders then sat and watched to see which ones people preferred, so he knew which one to print. Experiments don’t have to be complicated or limited to traditional focus groups, but they are well worth the time and money spent. Certain companies will video tape groups of users of websites to see how easy navigation is.

    With the amount of work you spend building your HUB Tad, you could set up a powerful little company focused bouncing ideas off your following to test out things from marketing letters to books.


  • LOVE this article.. thanks for it… Big business wants to automate everything to minimize their costs, and in our obsession for the cheapest price, we go along… Customer service has reached an all-time low… perhaps us smaller businesses will fill the niche; its the inevitable cycle of David taking out Goliath!

  • JOE – I love the framing of it in that way. Yes. In the end these huge machines are unsustainable much as empires are. Community and real connection is the only sustainable thing. Yes.

  • GentlyFeral

    Another Stupid Customer Service story: years ago, I dined at Boston Market and asked for whipped cream on my pie. The waiter said that was impossible … because they were out of whipped cream. “Can’t someone in the kitchen take a minute to whip some cream?” Well, they had no cream. Whipped cream, like everything else in the kitchen, was shipped from the warehouse.

    I didn’t go off on the waiter. I just told him, “You’re a nice young man. Someday I hope you get to work in a real restaurant.”