It was a pretty simple transaction. I ordered a pedal for my guitar stage rig (check out Chris’ “working musician” life here). It was a “scratch and dent” item, meaning someone bought & returned it so there was a nice price break. It was in perfect working condition and I don’t mind a few scratches if I can get a good deal.

The pedal arrived and worked great. As I reviewed the receipt, I noticed that the price had jumped from $200 to $330 for the item, $80 more than the brand new pedal retailed for! I called my sales contact and explained my issue. He said, “Let me transfer you to our customer service department. They’ll fix you right up.”

While I waited, it struck me – why have a “customer service department”? Isn’t it EVERYBODY’S job to serve the customer?!?

Organizational Structure Sends a Message

The way your organization operates and is structured sends clear messages to employees and customers. If your systems & policies are aligned and serve customers well, you’ll reap the benefits. If not, the buzz will fly: “This company treats customers like dirt.”

When companies make it difficult for customers to get service issues addressed, they 1) lose business (customers take their business elsewhere) and 2) frustrate employees.

If an organization has a “customer service department,” two key messages are reinforced to staff across the organization:

  1. “You don’t trust me.”
    If you have a separate team to solve customer issues, it means you don’t trust employees of other departments to solve customer issues. The message is clear: “We don’t trust you to do this right.”
  2. “Serving customers is not my job.”
    Since there’s a “blessed group” that solves customer issues, I don’t have to worry about customer service. I can stay in “transactional” mode, taking orders, and – even if I know the customer wants “X” but I’m selling “Z” – if there’s a problem, someone else is paid to take care of it.

Neither of these typical outcomes benefits your organization for long. Stupid policies inspire frustration, not inspiration!

The Pedal Price Conundrum

To close the loop on the guitar pedal, the customer service agent could not explain why the price on the receipt was different than the price the “scratch and dent” pedal was listed for. I faxed (I know – 60’s technology) the copy of the original order page to prove it was listed at $200 (Yes, I keep electronic copies of key pages sometimes – it served me well in this instance. Yes, I had to prove that THEIR SYSTEM had priced the item as I told them it was priced). She was simply unable to change the price for me. I said, “OK, then, I’ll return it to you for a full refund.” That apparently was the “secret word” for she soon honored the $200 price for the pedal and refunded the difference on my credit card.

I don’t shop with this firm anymore. I still purchase a lot of music supplies and accessories – just not through them. I just can’t justify reinforcing a company’s stupid policies; there are too many other really good companies who deserve my business.

Customer Service is EVERYBODY’s Job

If your company sells a product or service, relationships with your customers have to be its priority. If you don’t allow staff to use their heads to solve customer problems, you’re creating frustration, demoralizing staff, and creating a negative buzz that costs your company hard dollars.

What is YOUR experience with “customer service departments” and the like? Join in the conversation in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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