Customer Experience: Are You Betting Against Civility?

Recently on Twitter, I tweeted the Amex findings that 33% of customers are likely to switch brands or companies because of a rude or inattentive customer service rep (Source: American Express 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer).

I was quite surprised when someone tweeted back, “That means 67% wouldn’t leave.” He didn’t say what he meant by it but I doubt he was practicing arithmetic. Was he implying that incivility doesn’t matter if the majority of customers don’t leave because of it?

It’s a dangerous philosophy. For a solid reputation of super customer experience — civility, caring, and positive people-skills are foundational not optional. Whether it’s the first impression or the tenth interaction, uncaring reps will surely have a negative effect on the business.

Super Customer Experience: Are You Betting Against Civility? Image by:Jimmy_Joe

Super Customer Experience: Are You Betting Against Civility?

  • Selection and Hiring. If you posed that statistic when interviewing job applicants, what responses would you consider indicators of positive customer service attitude? If they replied like the man on Twitter, would you put those job applicants in the top group of potential hires? If yes, you may be betting against the importance of civility.

    If instead it would be a warning flag to you, you are on the path to building a solid foundation and culture of super customer experience.

  • Tolerance and Denial.  If one of your customer service reps was rude to a customer and the customer wanted to speak with you in management, would you speak with them?

    In some call centers, the reps are instructed to tell the customers a manager is not available. These call centers are betting against civility.

    How does it make you feel as the leader when you hear that your team members were rude to customers? What would you say to these customers besides “we’re very sorry”? Would you be tempted to defend your your reps with excuses of how busy they are, how good they generally are, and so forth?

    If you believe that civility is the very foundation of relationships with customers, there are no excuses or defenses. Verbalizing your company’s absolute 100% commitment to customer care will re-secure the trust of these customers. No other metric matters at that moment.

  • Indifference and inaction. Do you, as leader, believe that you can influence the behavior of customer service reps? One day I told a business owner how badly one of his employees had treated me. His answer was: “Well that’s just the way she is.”

    In that one short sentence, he neutered his position as leader. He either did not believe he could influence behavioral change or didn’t want to. His indifference led to his inaction and he bet against civility. He lost.

    In the face of negative customer feedback, do you often think “You can’t make everyone happy” or “You can’t change people.” Thoughts guide actions and these thoughts might lead you to bet against civility.

There’s a smarter bet with much better odds. As a leader, not only can you influence behavior — you must if you want civility to be the culture throughout your organization.

Create a winning customer experience culture by betting on and building the foundation of civility. It welcomes, delivers, and sustains your business.

Hire reps who desire civility and believe in it. Train them to shine at it. Coach them to nourish and retain it — and the customers.

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related Post:
Super Customer Experience Leaders: Are You All Attitude Ready?

©2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish this post, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

17 Responses to “Customer Experience: Are You Betting Against Civility?”

  1. David Lapin says:

    And of course customers will publicize an experience that stands out – whether positive or negative. So the 33% not only leave, they also chip away at the brand. Contrary-wise, when customer civility is something more than civility and approaches honor, customers become advertisers. Your Twitter friend seems clueless, doesn’t s/he?

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you David … and “chip away at the brand” is a great way of describing it.

      It starts to erode slowly without leaders awareness and then by the time it is apparent — costly to rebuild the foundation.

      The many who tweeted that remark is most likely clueless. What is even more unsettling is that many leaders believe that you cannot influence rep behavior and turn a blind eye to its effects.

      So pleased you chose to share your perspective here.

      Many thanks again and regards,

  2. Kate,

    Nice post.

    I am going to share a quick experience, which might surprise you a bit. It might also highlight an issue or roadblock in dealing with this particular issue. It is not only about the front line agents.

    I was in London this past week and needed to exchange US Dollars to Pounds. I went to the front desk and very nice desk agent suggested I would be better served, financially across the street, as the Hotel gives poor rates as well as a fee. They would do it, of course, if I still wanted to do so. Here is the kicker:

    I explained a tiny bit about what I do, and what I think about and thanked her for her honesty and good service. Her comment back was “I wish my management felt the same way” she went further and explained “In my last review, I was critiqued for my total focus on the customer and not thinking about the business”.

    I am sure there is more to it, but it highlights an important point that I have been considering. The people just behind the front line are getting squeezed as the metrics have not caught up to the philosophy. I agree with your post, sometimes I wonder who is the right audience to hear these words…


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Mitch,
      Your story is a wonderful illustration of the crux of this. In fact, it is exactly why I wrote this post.

      Leaders who think that metrics are the backbone of customer service and experience, are missing the true foundation. Customers care about who they are treated in the moment.

      “Metrics don’t create great service; they measure great service that reps create.” Love your comment that the metrics must catch up with the philosophy!

      Grateful for your contribution on this,

  3. Anne Egros says:

    Kate, I totally agree, statistics are just useless in that case because we talk about emotions and feelings here, not numbers ! I may not buy right away from a good customer service but will be loyal with a brand that care about their employees and customers’ experience. I would definitively not buy from companies that put pressure on time spent to solve a customer’s problem because it is automatically translated in bad customer services.

  4. An excellent post!
    I wonder how many businesses are getting along ok by tolerating / being indifferent to poor customer service. It’s not so bad that they do something about it, but at the same time they don’t make the connection that if they really stepped it up, it could make a huge improvement to their bottom line.
    Risking customer loyalty is dangerous for any business and most can’t afford to lose even 33%.

  5. Jeff Toister says:

    Kate – another nice post with great points that all suggest civility must be deliberate. Without prior knowledge of your post (I swear!), I wrote a post on my own blog this morning about how incivility is rampant among strangers in public. If these people are rude to strangers, is it really a stretch to assume they’ll be rude to customers too?

    You are absolutely right that organizations should hire right, refuse to tolerate incivility, and take action when they see it.

    You can see my post here:

  6. What about the 37% who also tweet, facebook or Linkedin their experience? Now what does that little 37% look like? Then how many RT or shared with friends and talked about you offline? It is more than chipping away with the ability to swipe across the city, country and world with the typing of a text or a tweet.

    Makes 37% grow big quickly 😉 Besides, what about the intention behind not giving customers 100% great experience? If you think you can hide that behind the scenes, and it will not be revealed ( and when things are revealed they have a lot more POWER) — well heck you are lying to yourself.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      I echo your thoughts and sentiment Michele — especially when you say “what about … giving customers 100% great experience?”

      It’s not about betting who you can treat badly and still survive as a biz. It’s all about thriving through a solid foundation of care!

      I am grateful for your contribution here and wish you continued success with your spot-on philosophy.

      Best regards,

  7. Shep Hyken says:

    Kate – As always, you give us great information. Civility comes down to the old cliche. In a confrontational situation you shouldn’t try to win the argument. You should try and win the customer. Do what it takes!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Shep. And I think the classic wisdom you offered “win the customer not the argument” … is too true to be a cliche.

      Always thrilled to read your brief comments and communicate so much.

      Sincere regards,

  8. Interesting post as always Kate.

    I guess when you use statistics to demonstrate a point, there is always the risk that someone will try and turn them round to illustrate a counter-point.

    The underlying message for me from the analysis is simple; if you ignore civility you run the risk of losing 33% of your customers. It is unlikely that any organisation would remain successful if it lost 33% of its business and it costs nothing to be civil!

    I would suggest that the respondent who pointed out (quite correctly) that the results indicate 67% of customers would not leave your business, either doesn’t work in the service industry or won’t be doing so for very long.

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

  9. Hi Kate,
    Another great post. Let’s put your tweeter-friend on an airplane tomorrow and tell him there’s a 67% chance the plane will land safely!

    Seriously though, why any business leader would be blase about risking 33% of their customers is just astounding to me. I see an ongoing hyper-focus on new sales, new sales, new sales while at the same time completely missing the value of retaining the current customer and (as my friend, Kathleen, would say) the positive “World of Mouth” that a happy customer will spread.

    If they want to play arithmetic, then consider the exponential effect of teaching one customer-facing employee the beauty of civility – times the number of customers that employee touches day-in and day-out. Multiply that by the whole customer service team and you have a tsunami of potential civility and happy customers!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Bill, LOVE your math extension of the overly metric focus of many leaders. Great refocus on the numbers that count.

      Grateful for your contribution.


  10. Civility is as civility does…plain and simple! Raising awareness, leading by example, being accountable is where it begins with lots of needed reinforcement along the way. I love stats as they help put it all in prespective!
    Great job as always, Kate!

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