Shifting the Customer Service Paradigm – Build Loyalty, Don’t Provide Service

Capturing customer feedback without alienating the customer is more than a process, more than a few meaningless vague words, and more than simple platitudes written in the home office for self-aggrandizement. More to the point, a customer survey should not have to be “sold” to a customer, offered in the first or last seconds of a call, and should build value to the customer asked for their opinion. Customer service in many organizations has a terrible problem, service. A better way exists that can solve and rectify the problem of service. In his book, “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless – Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” Jeffery Gitomer sheds some interesting light on this subject, and along the way, gives some great advice to fixing the problem. Jeffery Gitomer lists 12.5 reasons for poor service or customer alienation, they are:

  1. Wrong Mission Statement.
  2. No “Written” principles for customer service are established.
  3. Failure to start friendly.
  4. Failure to say it in the way the customer wants to hear it.
  5. Poor examples set by upper management.
  6. Companies allow employees to be rude to customers and tell customers “No” [Emphasis Mine].
  7. We are living in an era of responsibility shirkers and blamers.
  8. Companies settle for customer satisfaction [calling this service] rather than loyalty.
  9. Low training budget priority.
  10. Concentrating on competitive issues rather than competitive advantages
  11. Companies make the fatal mistake of only providing “company training” and “policy (rules) training.”
  12. Companies train only once in a while instead of everyday.


12.5. Failure to realize who is really in sales and service (Gitomer, 1998, pg 61-64).

Each of these steps holds its own bearing and weight upon customer alienation issues and the resulting problems and solutions for correction. Airtouch Cellular is one of the few companies that proved customer loyalty was the key to success. Friendly customer assistance representatives, training in going beyond simply satisfying the customer, allowing employees to serve the customer, and having managers back the service representatives in their decisions made all the difference, and the impression was lasting on both the employees and the customers long after the Airtouch/Verizon acquisition.

Better still, this pattern of building loyalty instead of serving a customer, can be seen in successful organizations like Quicken Loans, COSTCO, and Southwest Airlines. When buying a loaf of bread, any store will do, any brand will suffice, and yet, what drives a customer to go out of their way to shop at a specific store is more than the cost of the loaf of bread. While mortgage costs differ from company to company, what drives the customer to remain with a single mortgage provider when copycats and service providers fill the industry? When scheduling a flight, what drives a customer to choose one airline over another? Always, the answer comes back to the customer having made an emotional connection with a brand through the people representing the brand, thus leading to another question: how did this emotional connection arise? A need was experienced, and when that need was most pressing, a person provided not service, e.g., selling an airplane ticket, loaf of bread, or mortgage. The person sold loyalty by building emotionally value added experiences that met the need, then surpassed the need.

For example, while considering about becoming a COSTCO member, a friend discussed membership with the COSTCO representative. The representative walked my friend through the store, enumerating the tangible benefits of being a member while becoming familiar with my friend’s food tastes, preferences in shopping times, methods of purchase, needs for insurance, travel, and more. The COSTCO employee did not have to do anything more than place a brochure in front of the potential member; yet, by taking the path to build not customer service but customer loyalty, my friend uses COSTCO for everything and sings the praises of the brand to everyone. Hearing this tale several times, I asked my friend, “Was the employee reprimanded for taking this much time with you?” My friend met the employee’s manager during the tour, and the manager asked to join the tour and praised the employee’s knowledge and technique in helping customers. The best part of the COSTCO story is that this story is normal and similar stories are related by loyalty building customers of Quicken Loans, Southwest Airlines, Apple, and many more.

The engaged leader remembers the following axiom if they want to build a loyalty focused customer base, “A teacher is a leader, and a leader only teaches.” St. Francis of Assisi is quoted thus: “Preach the gospel, always. If necessary, use words.” The application cannot be understated. The leader, who wants customer loyalty, first exemplifies to internal customers loyalty building actions. Second, the leader then provides training and teaches how to embrace loyalty over simply giving service. Third, the leader catches their people doing something right, using their own judgment to drive the external or internal customer experience, and offers sincere and timely praise.

Quicken Loans has an “Ism.” An “Ism” is a culture-driving phrase representing an action expected by all employees, trained upon by organizational leaders, and exemplified by the entire organization, and one of these “Ism’s” is “Yes before No.” Consider how often as an external, or maybe an internal, customer you have a need, find a service provider, and the first thing you hear is “No” in some form denying you actually have a need and the other person’s refusal to meet your need. Your next step is to discontinue doing business with this person/company and then tell people how horribly you were treated. When given the chance to proclaim “Yes” and exhaust every possibility before reluctantly saying “no,” the response from customers and service providers builds that emotional connection needed to change the relationship from delivering service to building loyalty.

As a leader, focus on the people, not the result. The truth remains, people are led, data is managed, and leaders must encourage the realization that people are not data. People are not reports, numbers, statistical analysis, or obstacles to overcome. Engaging upon people remains the greatest action, regardless of medium in meeting business objectives. Hence, get out of your office, talk to people, engage in value building activities, and stop wasting valuable time and resources in simply providing service to a customer.


Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer satisfaction is worthless – Customer loyalty is priceless. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved


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Dual service military veteran. Possess an MBA in Global Management and a Masters degree in Adult Education and Training. Pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Business professional with depth of experience in logistics, supply chain management, and call centers.

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