The 3 Holy Sins of Customer Service (and their solutions)

Full sins

Customer service cannot be left to its own devices – it requires a culture of best practice. 

As a face-to-face, back office, and phone customer service veteran, I've seen how star employees can raise the bar for everyone.

During frenetic summers that saw queues snaking out of the department where I worked, its resident de justo head would get on the tannoy system to organise customers and deal with complaints and disturbances, expertly handling irate customers on the front counter with a mixture of authority and sincerity.

Such practices are an art form and during my stay I learned many things that perhaps could not be taught through a manual. Star employees are the ones who model the best practices in their specific environment and change the work culture.

There are however, sins of customer service that are almost universally unforgivable and which should be stamped out immediately. In this article I‟ll cover 3 of these deadly infringements and offer solutions to turn them around – including a few master-stroke nuances.

Holy Sin of Customer Service #3 – treating customers as outsiders

I‟ve made incredible friends from work. Work environments where employees can talk to each other are fantastic, particularly when they enjoy each other‟s‟ company. On the other hand, eliminating interaction between employees marginalizes the social aspects of work life.

Nevertheless, it does get awkward when a customer feels they are interrupting on an inner circle. Amicable work environments can do this by turning into tribal echo chambers and poor practices become systemic; while a bantering workforce can be entertaining for some customers, for others it creates an unprofessional atmosphere.

This extends to eye contact. The employee may forget to make eye contact when the customer is in proximity and this feels uninviting (I can remember many situations where I was unsure if I was next in line as the person on counter made no eye contact).


Instate a policy that employees must pay utmost attention to customer needs – looking for opportunities to provide service, and not engaging in conversation with colleagues whilst serving. The key is to emphasize the importance of making the customer feel

invited as if they were a guest and not an interruption.

Also critical is instilling the importance of proper eye contact. One way of doing this is by using the 10-5 rule. When a customer approaches within 10 feet of you, acknowledge them with eye contact. At 5 feet, give them a greeting such as 'good afternoon'.

Noticing and encouraging employees who show outstanding attention and etiquette towards customers may go a long way as basic behavior reward measures, done consistently, add up exponentially.

Holy Sin of Customer Service #2: disciplining employees in front of customers

Major no-no.

There are many reasons for this. Firstly, it presents a bad image of the company and suggests it is unruly or poorly stuffed. Secondly, it's plain embarrassing for the customer to have to overhear a customer being whipped back into shape. This will ultimately stain the customer‟s memory of that company.


Although you may want to address the problem immediately, if the interaction between you and the employee grows out of hand it could even lead to the interaction being captured on video and put on social media, or a news site. Whether recorded or live, it's disrespectful of the employee and a sign of poor leadership.

Keep any disciplinary actions discrete and outside of public view and ear shot. It's the counterintuitive Brook's Law in effect – the more people involved in a problem, the more complicated it becomes to correct it. Waiting until the next monthly meeting may not be appropriate. Finding a quiet corridor or room removes distractions and allows you and the employee to deal with the situation while it‟s all still fresh in your minds.

Holy Sin of Customer Service #1: passing on the blame

A company where senior management point fingers is a company rotting from the inside. Yes, each individual should be accountable for their actions, but when something goes majorly wrong, passing on the grenade makes leadership look even worse.


Retired Navy seal officer Jocko Willink describes being unfortunate enough to be the commander during an incident of friendly fire that led to a friendly Iraqi soldier dying. He refers to the incident as "the mortal sin of combat" in his TEDx speech. Jocko was 

called by his higher ups to prepare for debrief and he knew someone was going to get fired for the mix-up. 

So he spent hours going over what happened, writing it down, and decided that there were multiple people to blame for the incident: "There were so many people that I could incriminate with guilt," Jocko said. “I began to prepare my debrief. And in it, I detailed every mistake that was made and who made it. And I pointed out every failure in the planning, and the preparation, and the execution – in the operation. And I pointed out who was responsible for that failure. There was plenty of blame to go around.” 

Hours before entering the debrief room, where the US soldier responsible for accidentally killing the soldier, and several others who all could be implicated in how the mistake happened, Jocko came to a realisation. It was like a slap to the face. He tore up his script. “I told them there was only one person at fault for what happened,” Jocko told the debrief room, which included his commanding officer, the master chief, and the investigating officer. “And that person was me. I am the commander. I am the senior man on the battlefield. And I am responsible for everything that happens.' 

Right there in the debrief room, Jocko made a commitment to correct the error so that it never happened again. As a result, the level of respect his senior commanders and team had for him increased and did not decrease. Scrapping about in the aftermath of a disaster, by passing on the blame, is not the attitude of a commander. Leaders take ownership. Jocko calls this approach, to taking responsibility for errors that happen under your command, „extreme ownership‟. 

Ask yourself, ‘whose fault is this?’
-- If you never commit these 3 sins, your customers won‟t blame you for it. 

  1. Taking ownership of mistakes that happen under your command 

  2. Never disciplining your employees in front of the public 

  3. Making the customer feel welcome and invited 

These are the 3 Ideals of customer service.
 Jocko Willink quotes – 

Forbes article – service-jerk-moves-worst-practices-and-the-best-practices-to-prevent- them/#1b0f890dad84 

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