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Who is responsible for poor service?

Several months ago a reader asked a question that I have been mulling over ever since: “Why is it that the service we receive locally always seems substandard when compared to service received elsewhere, even when we are shopping or dining in the same chain?”

Variations of this observation have been around for years. Some claim the service they receive when visiting the United States is better than the service here in Canada. Some say service in small towns is better than in big cities. Is the service “always greener on the other side of the fence?”

My experience is that these statements are true some of the time, but are just as likely to be false. Examples of both good and bad, come from close to home, while others have been experienced thousands of kilometres away. It is not just a factor of geography. Other things seem to make the difference.

Is it the service provider who is at fault? Some people seem meant to serve, while others lack the requisite attitudes and skills to provide good service.

While it is convenient to blame the individual service provider - heaven knows, some business owners have been excusing poor service in this manner for years - this is too simplistic a response. Business owners and managers need to be accountable for service that does not measure up. There are four ways in which those managing are responsible for poor service:

  1. Some managers blame those on the front line. There is a labour shortage and these people are the best we can get. They have lousy work habits. They are just here to collect a pay cheque for doing as little as possible. These managers expect little and their expectations are being met, much to the pain of their customers.

  2. Some managers provide no training. They don't waste money on customer service training arguing that those they train may leave. But, those they don't train also stay and untrained, they represent the organization to its customers.

  3. Some managers fail to emphasize the importance of customer service. They do not set customer service standards, explain their expectations or provide feedback on the employee's performance. A new employee's orientation is limited to instructions on using the cash register, a list of rules of what employees are not to do and admonition to watch for shoplifters (inadvertently alerting the newcomer that customers are not to be trusted).

  4. Some managers fail to model the very behaviour they want staff to show towards customers. Comments directed towards staff are expressed as commands or as negative feedback. The managers are rude or indifferent in their dealings with their employees. What these managers don't understand is that staff will treat customers as well, or as poorly, as they feel treated. The golden rule for managers should read: “Treat your employees as you wish them to treat your customers.” Just as customers should be thanked sincerely for their business, staff should be recognized for their contributions. Without customers who buy, and staff who serve them, there is no business. Wise managers appreciate both.


Nelson Scott offers several Customer Service Presentations, including Customer Service MAGIC: Changing Complainers into Loyal Customers; What Your Mother Taught You About Customer Service and other Training Resources developed by Service Quality Institute and the Vital Learning Corporation.


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© Nelson Scott.  All rights reserved.

A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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