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Is Caring About Your Customers Enough?

Posted by on January 30, 2011

We’ve all been on the phone frustrated with the customer service rep who we need to dictate all of our information to even though we just typed it in via our telephone key pad.  We’ve all had problems with internet service providers or cable operators who can’t seem to fix our problems.  The usual conclusion from the customer perspective is that the brand/company doesn’t care about their customers. This doesn’t really make sense though since the brand/company isn’t really a person and thus has no feelings.  Surely there must be someone in some role that is in charge of a particular department that is saying, “screw my customers,” right?  So, just who is it that doesn’t care about customers and why is it that they don’t care about them?

I’ve been on the phone with my internet provider many many times where I wait on hold, get passed around from rep to rep, and repeat the same information to each of them.  However, most of the time the reps are empathetic to my problem and they actually sound like they care.  I’ve also spoken to managers employed by my internet provider and they seem to care as well.  Could it be the managers’ boss who doesn’t care? Maybe. Maybe not.  Are there companies out there or executives at these companies that genuinely don’t care about their customers?  Again, perhaps, but I haven’t heard of or met any of them.  It’s actually a bit silly to think that there are people running companies out there who say “eff my customers, let them suffer, muhahahahaha!”  In fact, I’d argue that most employees and executives do care about their customers. Well then what’s the problem?  If you care about your customers, then everything should be fine right?  No. I don’t think caring about your customers is enough.  I believe it can be broken down in a few areas:


Employees may care about their customers but just don’t have the ability to show them that they care.  Not every company has an open culture like Zappos, which encourages employees to build relationships with their customers.  Not all employees are given the ability to even speak to or engage with their customers.  If a wounded patient comes to a doctor but the doctor doesn’t have the equipment to treat the patient, then there really isn’t much the doctor can do, regardless of how much he cares about the patient.  Employees need to be empowered to engage with and interact with their customers.  They need to be trusted that they will make good decisions and practice good judgment in the absence of such equipment.


When you give an organization data, that data is oftentimes living in its own little silo where not every can access to it.  It’s not the employee’s fault that they don’t have your information; they just don’t have access to it.  The data and back-end technology at many organizations don’t support a “single truth around the customer” functionality.


I’m often shocked that organizations don’t have processes for dealing with or handling certain issues.  If there is no process for how to resolve or escalate an issue, then the problem never gets resolved.  Poor processes lead to confusion and lack of problem solving.  Again, this has nothing to do with not caring — it’s just a lack of processes.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  If a company really cares about its customers, then it should be able to make all three of things happen right?  Sure, but to play devil’s advocate, how exactly does a large company do that?  Every customer has a different perspective and idea about how they want a brand or company to interact with them.  Things are always changing and evolving and no matter how hard you try, you will never make 100% of your customers happy.  So how do you empower thousands of employees, integrate all of your data/technology, and set up solid processes on a global scale?

Herein lies the catch-22.  Customers can’t help organizations that much because they don’t really understand the inner workings of how organizations function.  Organizations can’t release too much information publicly because of security, trust, and control issues (among other things).  So, are we at a stale mate?  How can customers work with companies to solve business problems and how can executives empower themselves and their employees to build customer relationships and help solve business problems?

Do you think it’s possible that we will see an agile and dynamic enterprise that can shift how it works to accommodate customers and situations at a rapid pace?  In essence, will every customer one day be able to personalize their own experience with a brand/company?

  • Hi Jacob,

    I would change ’empowered’ to ‘enabled’ to be autonomous. Your argument can be rounded up to creating an environment where customers can be taken care of.

    Just last week I wrote up a rant about Living Social (, it wasn’t until I told them to ‘go F themselves’ that I received an email from them about a proposed solution. My question is ‘why wait until customers become annoyed to respond?’ And this is a startup, a copycat. It’s suppose to do better than Groupon. Process? Meh!

    We think the issue is process, I think the issue is too much process. Zappos is great because they’ve eliminated the process and have given full autonomy for their employees to care for customers. This seems like a radical idea and that’s why they have the advantage. Other organizations will keep on playing by the same rules of the game of process optimization and the like. Well already know what that looks like, it’s a never ending cycle of cutting steps and adding others.

    Startups and small businesses know the secret already: response. If a customer calls they’re going to answer the call because they know that an annoyed customer means an unhealthy business. Rackspace is great example of this ( Less process? Yes!

    Bottom line: Unless execs trust employees to do everything in their power to satisfy customers, we’ll still be talking about this. Like you said this is a management problem. Let’s eliminate some management and the tires will move smoothly.



    • I’ve lost count of how many coupons I’ve had expire because no company other than Groupon sends out reminders. As for Rackspace, blech! I’ve had several very different and very negative experiences with them. OTOH, I’ve recently had absolutely great customer service, on several visits, at the Fell St. DMV in San Francisco. Go figure!

    • I’ve lost count of how many coupons I’ve had expire because no company other than Groupon sends out reminders. As for Rackspace, blech! I’ve had several very different and very negative experiences with them. OTOH, I’ve recently had absolutely great customer service, on several visits, at the Fell St. DMV in San Francisco. Go figure!

    • You make some interesting points but I’m sure even Zappos has certain processes in place. They are definitely more unstructured than most though. I think data is really a big problem for companies as there is no single source of truth around the customer so employees dont have the data they need to make the right decisions. Thanks for the comment!

  • I’m not sure if this fits into any of the three categories you’ve cited. Employee apathy is a contributor. How many times have you offered a suggestion or actually complained about something to an employee, in person or over the phone, only to be met with pseudo-empathy, a weak acknowledgement, or just a blank stare? There are myriad reasons for this. “It’s just a temporary job.” “I hate my boss.” “I don’t get paid enough to care.” “It’s too much effort (I’m not empowered/enabled.) Since there’s no commitment by either the employer/company and the employee to each other, the customer is usually the one that ends up suffering.

    • Great point, so it’s all about making sure that the organization hires and retains the right employees that care about and are passionate about the work they do. thanks for stopping by!

      • The “right” employees are those who know their employer cares about them and has their backs. It’s about a mutual commitment and making that clear, not just ‘understood.’

  • You can not empower employees. Empowerment comes from within, not without. I highly recommend Seth Godin’s book Linchpin:

    Data and technology are a prerequisite for good customer experience (, but then again, like Seth Godin said, “Only human beings can nurture relationships.”

    Processes are doomed (unless you have empowered employees). Most of the time is spent managing exceptions, not following the rules.

    So it all boils down to people. Joseph Stalin famously said: “Cadres are a key to everything” and that’s the only point I would ever agree with him on.

  • Oh, and here’s my own recent experience as a “Dear Valued Merchant” 🙂

  • companies need to cater to their customers, we are the ones buying their product and if we have problems they need to have solutions to fix it. I totally agree with your article!

  • Good post, Jacob, and I subscribe to all points. However, as to processes there is often a misconception between old-style rigid processes that can hardly be changed, so-called dynamic processes, which allow for different options within the rigid logic, and truly adaptive processes, which can be changed & redefined by business users while serving their customers:

    • thanks for the post and for the link michael, ill take a look!

  • I think the two things Empowerment and Data are the common drawbacks. These are something that are always known to them and they often express directly these things to the customers but again they are hidden and are ignored by them!

  • Sarapena52

    send it to my face book