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  • Writer's pictureJesse Good

Three Tell-Tale Signs That Your Customer Service Sucks (and You Don't Know It)

I recently worked with an entertainment venue that was interested in improving their customer experience. They used a customer survey system for measurement as many organizations do. Going into the last day of the month, the employees were woefully short on their goal of total surveys as well as their desired customer service score.

It was quite a surprise then, when I read an email the next morning, from the general manager to his employees. The business owner and I were copied on the message. In it, the GM lauded the performance of the people on shift that evening and the extra effort they put in to attain their goals. In a reply message, the owner also offered accolades to the employees.

I was the “Negative Nancy” that didn’t believe they could have pulled it off. After some investigation, I found that the employees cheated their way to their survey total and their service score. What surprised me most wasn’t the cheating, but rather, the fact that neither the GM nor the owner was so disconnected that they didn’t pick up on the scandal.

To help close gaps like this, I’m giving you three tell-tale signs your customer service sucks (and you don’t know it).

You Don’t Train Your Employees. Ari Weinzwig, a founding partner of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses explains what he calls “The 5-90-5 Rule.” Weinzwig says that in his experience, only about five percent of employees are customer service superstars that rarely (if ever) require training. On the opposite end is the bottom five percent who just won’t figure it out no matter what you do. In the middle is the ninety percent, where most of us live. These people have a desire to offer great service, but require guidance and training to move to the skill level of the top five percent. If you aren’t training your employees to deliver customer service the way you want them to, then they are delivering it the way your competitor taught them. And, if you aren’t training your employees, chances are your customer service sucks.

Your Customer Service Surveys Are All Positive. According to T. Scott Gross, about seventeen percent of customers will change providers after only one instance of poor customer service that is not resolved to their standard.

This number increases to nearly fifty-eight percent after the second instance of poor customer service.

The very best service organizations are the best because they make mistakes, and learn from them. Though painful at times, receiving negative feedback says that your customers like you, they trust you, and they want to give you another chance. If all of your customer service surveys are positive and you rarely receive negative feedback, there is a good chance your customer service sucks.

You Don’t Know Your Customers. I was eating at a casual dining restaurant last week. I saw a manager making his way around the dining room and making sure customers were satisfied. When he stopped at the table behind me, I heard the customer tell the manager,

“We’re regulars, we eat here all the time.”

I thought it was interesting that the customer had to tell him and the manager didn’t already know them. Janelle Barlow and Dianna Maul cite in their book Emotional Value: Creating Strong Bonds With Your Customers, that nearly three-quarters of all customer purchases are made by repeat purchasers. If you are flush with a lot of new customers, and very few regulars whom you know personally, your customer service probably sucks.


If your service sucks, it can be remedied with minimal effort. It all starts with training (that’s why I listed that one first). It doesn’t have to be anything huge or elaborate, but enough to ensure that your customer is receiving consistently good service every time.

The next step is to build on that training with effective customer resolution. When your customer feels that you care and are willing to fix your service gaps, they will let you know. Your overall service scores may drop, but remember, this is an indication that your customer wants you to succeed; they want to give you additional opportunities to serve them the right way.

Finally, when consistent onboarding and resolution training are in place, you will begin establishing a relationship with your customer, and before long, you will know all of your regulars by name.

Do you agree or disagree? What are other tell-tale signs that your (or someone else’s) customer service sucks? Do you have other great ideas for improving customer service? I’d love to see your comments.

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Jesse B Good

Speaker, Author, Customer Experience Marketing Expert

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