Customer Service Leaders: Are Your Limits Actually Roadblocks?

As leaders and teams design customer service, they inevitably include some limits. Hours of operation, languages spoken, information the customer must provide to get service, access to secure information, and the list goes on. Most people expect and agree to some structure or limits.

However when customers see limits as roadblocks to great customer experience, you risk losing them and all those they tell in person and on social media.

In some cases their expectations are truly unrealistic. Yet dismissing all customer objections to your limits as unreasonable is a sign of company narcissism. Ignoring and rejecting customer feedback can kill your business.

Customer Service: Are Your Limits Actually Roadblocks? Image by:Universal Pops

Are Your Customer Service Limits Actually Roadblocks?

This question is a powerful tool. Use it to take the customer journey and experience what you ask of the customers.

Count the number of customer experience hoops you jump through and you will find all the places the customers might jump ship!

  • Access to you. The limits you place on the customers’ access to you will yield some of the most emotional disruptive outbursts against your business on social media. To a customer blocked access doesn’t feel like a structured limit. It feels like a big void in which they cannot trust you. They turn to social media because they cannot communicate their needs directly to you.

    Are you afraid to learn about your customers’ needs?

      True story: Customer was considering replacing all nineteen windows in the house and received three quotes. The contractor submitting the middle quote was highly recommended by a neighbor who had used him. He lost out because after an initial in-person meeting, for which he was forty minutes late with no phone call, he said he wanted to communicate primarily through email. Moreover, when the customer called the contractor’s office the day he was so late, his assistant didn’t answer the phone.

      At the meeting, the contractor told the customer that his assistant was in the office but probably just not answering the phone! To make matters worse, the agreement he wanted the customer to sign was full of strong legal language that protected his interests yet mentioned none of the none of the customer’s main concerns.

      Customer’s impression: I won’t be able to talk to him or his assistant when necessary. He doesn’t care about my best interest. The customer jumped ship.

    Better step: Give customers easy access to you to build trust that produces more business.

  • Scripted robotic procedures. Customers see non-listening, scripted, jargon-filled communication as a hoop to jump through – not a necessary limit. It is a roadblock to getting help for their particular needs.

    Your company may see it as a limit on liability and a way to sustain a consistent brand image. Customers almost universally disagree with you. They see it as company narcissism and a tremendous sign of disrespect for them. So they jump ship.

  • Better step: Train reps to listen for each customer’s need and use guidelines to cover all aspects of customer care.

  • Inflexibility. Successful businesses that customers embrace live by the rule, “Anything is possible; let’s look at it.” If you design your customer service for the average customer request and train your reps only in that vein, they become inflexible trolls who repeat standard company policy to every customer.

    To the customer this is not a necessary limit. It is ignorance in action and a hoop they’d rather not jump through. So they jump ship.

  • Better step: Train reps to ask great questions. Successful negotiation flows from dialogue not monologue.

  • Mistrust of Customer. Example: in retail, when a customer is making a return with a receipt for a cash purchase, do you ask them to fill out their name, address, phone number in order to get the cash refund? Think about how this makes the customer feel — mistrusted and investigated. This is not a structured limit — it is an unnecessary hoop to jump through. So they jump ship and shop elsewhere.

    Better step: Review every step of the customer’s journey with your company and find every point that you show mistrust of the customer. Are you punishing every customer for the actions of those who have done you wrong? Not exactly a loyalty building strategy is it?

  • Your Silos and Disconnected Teams. If the customer has to do your teamwork and pay for it, it is an unnecessary hoop to jump through. They will jump ship for the chance that the next company has the cross teamwork to serve them.

    Better step: Slash teamwork barriers. Become the provider they jump to — not away from — and win out over your competition!

  • Hidden conditions. Remember the days of gift cards with hidden expiration dates? When customers buy gift cards, it is reasonable for them to assume the cards don’t expire. Money doesn’t.

    Thus the limit of an expiration date was not only a hoop for the customer to jump through but one they didn’t even know existed.
    Can you imagine the embarrassment of giving a gift card only to have your loved one, dear friend, or boss tell you it was no longer any good? Needless to say the customer outcry was loud and it shamed many retailers who engaged in this practice.

    Hidden limits outrage customers because the deceit makes them feel they were played as fools. It yields embarrassing surprises and negative emotions about you that spew into the social media stream.

    Better step: Make all terms and conditions clear. Live up to your marketing promises. Make money with honest disclosure. If not, you will lose in the end as customers jump ship while tweeting your questionable ethics.

In truth, the toughest question for companies to answer is: Is it a needed limit or an unnecessary hoop that blocks customer loyalty?

The Difference:

    Limits still provide easy access, caring empathy, honest dialogue, and solutions that benefit the customer in the time frame they need it.
    Unnecessary hoops serve your interests and not theirs, show mistrust and disrespect, and keep the customer in limbo or blocked from a timely valuable solution.

For every point you have identified as a possible hoop, ask yourselves why you are doing it that way.

Is it based on fear of losing, deep mistrust of the customer, or an extreme internal focus like proving the value of customer service to executive leaders through metrics? Is it worth the loss of customers? They jump ship as they experience your company’s narcissism and lack of care.

Reassess the hoops. What would happen if you got rid of them or replaced them with something better? There are large well-known companies who have done it and are famous for it — from Nordstroms and Zappos to Lands End and Ritz-Carlton. There are mom/pop shops who have been doing it for centuries with no acclaim and plenty of success.

The proof is there. The path is clear. Will you take it?

I’m ready to be your guide as I have done for so many others.

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

Related Posts:
Customers & Us in Harmony
One Customer Experience That Speaks Volumes to All Teams

©2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish the content of 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.

7 Responses to “Customer Service Leaders: Are Your Limits Actually Roadblocks?”

  1. Khalid says:

    Thoughtful post as usual 🙂 thanks Kate.

    I relate your post to one incident (well more than one as I’ve been chasing them for more than a year) of calling one of our ISPs in my country. When I call their help desk line I get transferred to an answering machine which asks me several questions, part of these questions is my telephone number and a secret code to pass through to operators. But when I get there, the first question I get asked is my telephone number! Thought I just said this to the answering machine. I really gets frustrated when I have the need to call them coz same thing happen over and over regardless my endless complains to the operator about their way of dealing with my calls! Apparently there is no link between the operator and the answering machine!

    I would definitely leave this ISP ASAP.


  2. Great post Kate, I can think of examples for EVERY situation you described!

    What amazes me is the number of organizations that don’t realize these situations are BEACONS pointing to obvious opportunities to increase results.

    …Addressed they provide vision and hope, customer loyalty, a strong brand, teamwork, increased morale and profitability!

    …Ignored they are like gold, that has not been mined. How sad for an organization to be mediocre, to struggle or to fail, when they are tripping over golden nuggets daily!

  3. anneegros says:

    Hi Kate
    I have several stories as a customer to illustrate your points. Let me give you one. When selecting a moving companies I received three quotes. One of them was cheaper than the others and the company was well known internationally. When we wanted to get information once we said we chose the company, the person in charge had to be called and emailed several times to get responses 2 or 3 days later or the secretary would say he was in meeting all day. Well, we jump back to a more friendly mover who was responding in less than an hour and even on weekends. Pricing was not as important as quality of the follow up and coordination with the team overeseas wich was much more transparent than in the big international company. The third company was harassing me calling every week to get information about our decision while we were still investigating, that behavior too was a big deal breaker

  4. Lisa Ford says:

    So well said! Most companies treat the customer as one who is out to cheat them. The policies and hoops are to protect them and not serve the customer. It is such “old thinking” and not acceptable to today’s savvy customer. however most companies have not done the hard work to dismantle the hoops and policies. Your ideas provide a good roadmap to get started.

  5. Gavin Jones says:

    Very few companies have great customer service policies as there is no immediate margin in it. Finance directors see anything but revenue in as waste and as such customer service (which is basically the complaints department) is under funded, understaffed and undervalued.

    The centralised call centre is the core of this problem with demoralised, low paid, target driven staff being the first port of call for disgruntled customers.

    Sales drive companies, not retention this this problem compounds itself.

    Great article.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Gavin,
      So true in many cases. Those of us consulting to leaders are working to change it and making strides now. I am grateful for your frank summary of the challenges and encouragement.

      Hope you will visit here often and offer your insights again.

      Warmest thanks,

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