Service Providers Suck.

So, as I was sitting in the Wireless store this week with the 19 other people ahead of me in the automated queue, I started thinking about why I hate customer service at companies like this. It’s the complete absence of focus on either the “customer” or “service” in the phrase “customer service.” A good company will focus on one or the other, a frustrating company seems to do its best to avoid both.

After a 1-hour drive, I was sitting in that store, waiting my turn, trying to keep my head from exploding – because at my previous visit, a clerk hadn’t clicked one button. That one lapse prevented me from doing the change I needed over the phone. Once it was my turn and someone clicked that button, I’d have another 1-hour drive back home and the pleasure of only dealing with their complex phone menu system and their hold music for future changes to that account. Woo-hoo, lucky me.

I get it. As companies become increasingly mammoth, they must systematize and have orderly processes for maximal efficiency. Yet, when their systems fail or their workers err, the burden falls back on the customer. No one will report back to the first clerk – “Hey, remember to click that button next time,” because you just wasted a good part of a customer’s day. And there wasn’t a way to jump to an expedited queue with a “That was our bad, go to the head of the line” option. Nope, I sat there feeling like a schmuck. Looking at the faces of the other customers in the waiting area, they felt about the same, too.

The thing is, we all love to complain about the utility providers in our lives – like the airlines, internet, telephone, water, and electricity. It’s cathartic. I’ve been providing services my entire career and I’ve even sat on a water board. I’ll still complain as much as the next person. I am sure you have a doozy of a story to tell me, too. But, since this is a blog focused on entrepreneurship, you might wonder what am I driving at?

Well, most searchers buy service-based businesses. They may be B2B instead of B2C, but they are service providers. If you’re entering the realm of search funds or more broadly acquisition entrepreneurship, have you truly considered what it means to be a service provider? Have you thought about what it would mean for your business and your identity?

Think about your best stories of spectacular customer service and then think about your worst stories of horrid customer service. Do the horrible experiences outnumber the spectacular ones? How might you react to these situations as a business owner who has rent/mortgage to pay, payroll to meet, a loan to pay back and investors to satisfy?

What approach to customer service does your target company have? Do you agree with it? Is the customer always right? Or, do they come in second? Or, last? What does that mean for your future sales and your business plan?

What kinds of customers will you be dealing with? Are they the kind of people you want to deal with? That question may seem snooty. Business is hard enough for people you love to serve. I wouldn’t want to be the owner working and dreaming 24/7 on a business with customers I found distasteful.  Now’s the time for a bit of self-awareness. And, if you think you’re one of those people who could get along with anybody, just think about being an airline representative on the day before Thanksgiving when half the flights are canceled out of Chicago. One day your business will have the equivalent of that unfortunate moment. Who will be the veritable angry mob in front of you? Will their business be worth it to you?

Your customers may also bring some obvious and hidden biases to their interactions with you. What might they be? Are you prepared to handle those?

I recommend to my students to write their thoughts down on questions like these. It helps hone your thinking and provides avenues for follow-up.

If you want to learn more, here are a couple of books related to customer service that have been recommended by searchers:

For more ideas, please see my Reading List. If you have suggestions for additional books on this topic, please submit it here.

Looking to learn more in a structured environment with your peers? We’re accepting applications for the EtA Launch Hub.