Seth Godin

Seth Godin

Seth Godin’s 2007 post  called Starting Over with Customer Service still rings true on the reasons for customer dissatisfaction with service but his proposal of how to start over is oversimplified.

For those of you who don’t know Seth Godin,  he is a well published author of 12 books, the latest called Tribes. (Get is free at


Seth writes about the changes in marketing and business structures necessary to survive in the New Internet Economy. I am great fan of the 2 books I have read of his, Tribes and Meatball Sundae.

In his article, written in 2007, he talks about 3 reasons why customer service is broken which I believe are still valid.

‘1. The internet has taught us to demand everything immediately (and perfect). As a result, we expect that every single time we pick up the phone or deal with someone in a retail setting, we’ll be dealing with the Senior Vice President of Customer Satisfaction, the head of accounting and the chief of quality control, all at the same time. We expect instant results and undivided attention.

2. The rapid proliferation of choice has taught us to demand that everything should be cheap.
As a result, we won’t pay extra for superior service, which means companies need to hire cheap.

3. The availability of blogs and other public histories means that it is harder than ever to treat different customers differently.
Word gets out.

As a result of these three inexorable trends, companies are on defense.’

Seth proposes that companies should try to divert some of the support from immediate to ‘overnight’ while still ensuring the customer that their problem has been heard, their data has been gathered completely and that they deserve great service.  He feels that many customers will be satisfied with this approach, IF the company does execute on that promise.

There are cases where deferred service will not be practical as in the case of electricity being off, or phone service not working but many billing problems and other non critical issues can be handled this way.

I believe that Seth has captured customer feelings about ‘service’ requirements, ie I need something fixed. However as I have commented in a few of my other articles, (Customer Service using Twitter, Factors to consider when using Twitter for Customer Service, Comments about Customer Service using Twitter Articles and the recent  USA Today article on Twitter for Customer Service)   customers don’t only approach companies with problems that need to be fixed. They use the internet and particularly Social Media, to also provide feedback on products improvements that customers need or improvements needed or wanted in the way they are marketed to, sold to, or communicated with.

I believe the most important factors impacting customer service in the new internet world are attitude and responsiveness.  Make the customer feel that you care and that you have heard their problem.

Repeat the problem in your own words. Seek agreement to ensure you have totally understood the issue. This makes the customer feel so much better. Then discuss an action plan to fix..what you will do, what they need to do, how long each step will take and ensure it is clear WHO has the next action step to take and by when. Some things will need immediate attention, others can be deferred.  Still others, like the ones I dealt with at IBM software support,  may take several discussions, and  investigation to determine where the problem is and what the fix might be.

If you work with the customer on an action plan with clear ownership and accountability  of next steps, customers feel much better about the support they get.

Finally, follow through with the action plan as promised and seek agreement from the customer that the problem has been really resolved from their perspective. If  for some reason the problem is a feature not available, or something impossible to change, ensure the customer knows that there is feedback to the organization about the enhancement or new product requirement or problem caused. Customers like to know they have been heard.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

3 Responses to “Seth Godin’s post on Starting Over with Customer Service”

  1. Frank Brinkman Says:

    The basic idea is client communication is of the utmost importance. It may in some cases be more important than the clients problem. Clients will be satisfied if they understand and agree with the actions being taken on their behalf to resolve their issue. I know this is reality. Every manager of Customer Support has witnessed it. Business cannot afford to have an infinite set of resources applied to resolving all issues immediately. This sets up the delicate balance between costs and client satisfaction. This requires classification of problems into priorities and deferral of resolution until a later date.

    Once the problem has been “found” it is imperative to set expectations of clients and customer service team based upon these priorities. These expectations must be in kept in sync. I use the word “found” to indicate the customer service needs to be proactive in their pursuit of issues. As mentioned in the past it is important to use all social media capabilities to capture client issues. as early as possible. This should include situations where the client has not voiced their dissatisfaction directly to the customer service team.

    Once the issues have been identified the problems need to be triaged into catagories. The catagories range from immediate to deferred for later resolution. The problems need to be continually reviewed, triaged, and status communicated to the client. Clients and resolution teams need to have their expectations kept in sync as the status changes throughout the life of the resolution of the problem. When the urgency of a problem goes up additional resources need to be applied and appropriate additional management involved providing overview and client communication where necessary. Continual syncing with clients is primary.

    The key to maintaining the delicate balance of client satisfaction and business costs is continual client agreement with the possible actions to resolve. I could ramble on with more details and processes, but if this commandment is adhered to everything will fall into place. This commandment addresses both attitude and organizational commitment.

    Thanks Adele. You and I think alike, but that is not new news..



  2. James Gurd Says:

    Hi Adele.

    Nice article as always. It always comes back to communication – most people accept and can deal with mistakes provided they are being listened to and they think somebody who is competent is taking control.

    What leads to the most frustration is complicated and confused resolution management, something that afflicts a lot of companies and most Govt departments. At the heart of that lies process and people.

    I don’t think people need to start over with customer service, I think they need to think more like their customers and try to understand what they are like to deal with as a business. It’s worth it because good customer service adds value to your business.

    I agree with Seth’s point about not promising immediate resolution for non-emergency issues. Surely what’s important is satisfactory resolution, not just action for action’s sake?


  3. Adele Says:

    Thanks James,

    I agree that people who can wait, and given the assurance that their problem will be resolved promptly (and given an expected timeframe that is reasonable) will be satisfied to wait. No everything is an emergency

    In my years at IBM (I am now retired) I saw situations where computer systems were down and the most important thing was to get them up and running again. If eBay is could cost millions a minute.. Or if a stock market was down..the impact would be very severe. When a company’s products can produce results that have severe financial, or other consequences, then an organization has to be able to triage problems coming into its service center. IBM used severity codes. Severity 1..the system was down or could not function. Severity 4 was something that was an irritant and needed to be fixed. Response time targets were different based on severity level.

    An organization’s management needs to evaluate what it’s impact is on customers and make sure it has triage methods IF the nature of their business warrants it.


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