Get Customer Service Right, Or You’re Out of the Game

One of my favourite quotes from The Dark Knight; “You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying!

A little dramatic perhaps – not to mention some of the best acting of all time – but this directly applies to customer service.

Your clients don’t get anywhere near as angry if you come to them with a potential issue, it’s when they have to constantly chase you for resolution of a KNOWN issue that things go horribly wrong.  If your customer service is only ever reactive, you have failed, and if you can’t even react well, you are out of the game.

From my favourite website ever,;


Type in the phrase ‘customer service’ into Google and you’ll get over 8 BILLION results. There are institutions and college degrees dedicated to it, books by the thousand, and articles and blogs by the million (this one is very good; 8 Rules for Good Customer Service, by Susan Ward), yet how do organisations STILL get it wrong?

That’s easy, blame the CEO (or equivalent).

Just as a lack of a security culture is the CEOs fault, lack of a Customer Service culture is every bit as much on their shoulders.  As I stated incessantly; “Let’s be very clear; The CEO sets the tone for the entire company: its vision, its values, its direction, and its priorities.  If the organisation fails to achieve [enter goal here], its the CEOs fault, and no-one else’s.

Replace “enter goal here” with “Customer Satisfaction”  and the rest is the same.

The symptoms of the inability of some organisations to provide good customer service (the CEO being the cause) can include;

  1. Poor selling techniques – if salespeople are not trained to sell only what the customer needs (not wants or even asks for), the organisation behind this salesperson will be unable to support the customers questions.  I don’t care how nice you are, or how great your products, if you’ve sold something the client doesn’t need, they will rarely buy from you again;
  2. Poor products or services – there’s a fairly good chance that if your vendor does not provide good customer service, the other services and products provided by them are suspect, and should be reviewed.  Do your research, and ALWAYS ask for a proof of concept (POC) before you buy.  No POC, no purchase;
  3. Black-hole communication – No-one wants to be yelled at, so if your calls and emails are going unanswered, there’s a very good chance you aren’t going to like the answer when you finally get them.  This is also an extension of 2.  And finally, forget how quickly the salesperson comes back to you BEFORE the sale, how are they immediately after?;
  4. No Customer Service SLAs built in – in other words, if you have to ask for SLAs related to communication, or even something as simple as response times, there’s a good chance you won’t get the service you’re looking for;
  5. Very low renewal rates – include this question in your RFP for new services and products, and have them prove it;
  6. Limited, or no references – this one is too obvious  to expand on, but ignore industry awards, they are a farce.

An organisation that truly embraces a customer service culture will probably allude to it in their Vision Statement, and almost definitely in their Values.  Do business with only those organisations that take the term ‘partnership’ seriously, especially in security, and ANY company that bandies around the phrase ‘Trusted Partner’ needs to be taking client satisfaction to the next level.  Are they?

Good customer service is even simpler than security, and far less difficult to achieve, you just have to treat it as a foundation of doing business.  Your clients happiness is more important than your profit.  If you don’t believe that, you don’t care enough about them to give them what they need.

In one respect or another, we are ALL customer service reps, and this (to me) is the definitive guide to being a good rep; How To Win Friends And Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.

Yes I’ve read it …twice, and yes, I still have a lot of work to do 🙂

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Loyalty vs. Personal Values

In recent months, I have had time to reflect on many things, one of which was my career choices over the course of the last 12+ years.

I came to the conclusion that loyalty, while absolutely critical, can potentially put you in a tough position should you ever decide on a change. Your organisation must also match your degree of loyalty, or the negative effect on your motivation / morale is the same.

Like people, organisations change over time. What was once a place that deserved, and even earned your continued efforts, can change into something that is best left behind. Nothing nefarious, or even negative, it’s just not right for you, and if you’re not paying close attention, you may not notice this deviation until it’s too late. Or the decision is made for you of course

Everyone needs to develop their personal career vision statement, and list the corresponding values. If the organisation for whom you work does not mostly mirror these values, it may be time to re-evaluate. This evaluation exercise should be repeated often, and especially if there is a significant event on either side of the table.

My vision statement would read something like; “Security before regulation, service before profit.”, and my values would include: integrity, hard work, and enablement (I teach, I don’t just consult). Do you know yours? Does your company post theirs on their website for all to see? Do they live and breathe them?

Companies are the communities of old, where you should feel part of something bigger than yourself, that you are making a positive difference, and maybe – just maybe – receive a little bit of appreciation. This feeling of belonging cannot be attained if your values are different from theirs.

As a manager of a very disparate and diverse group of consultants across 14 time zones, I tried to guide my guys into a little introspection. Whether it was about their own strengths, career progression, or even the organisation for whom we worked, I was never going to get the best out of them unless they truly wanted to be there. This comes from shared vision, and matching values, not from a salary.

So finally, I’m not saying quit if things aren’t perfect, they never will be, but where previously you would not entertain calls from recruiters, take the calls. Where you think you’re underpaid / under-appreciated, go find out if other companies can provide more of what you are looking for.

Above all, know what’s important to you, and don’t be taken by surprise!!

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