How to Fix Your Terrible Customer Service

December 12, 2016, 1:00 AM UTC
Woman with a headset / callcenter employee.
GERMANY - JUNE 03: Woman with a headset / callcenter employee. (Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)
U. Baumgarten via Getty Images

This article originally appeared on AllBusiness.

Customer service sucks. In fact, I believe that the term “customer service” is an oxymoron. Out of all the experiences I have with companies, I dread when I have to contact customer services as I know it will be a nightmare. But, it shouldn’t have to be that way.

Given that the customer service industry is being overrun by social media and online review websites, some companies simply cannot keep up. Others feel that their customer service is so good they don’t need to change.

In fact, 80 percent of businesses think they deliver superior customer service (while only 8 percent of customers agree), according to Jay Baer in his book, Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers. Baer also believes that “most companies are using 1995 playbooks to solve modern customer service issues.”

Many companies see customer service as a necessary evil when it fact it needs to be a staple of their businesses. “Customer service is often a direct view into the heart of a company,” says Dan Doran, CVA and founder of Quantive Valuations. “Clients that feel loved often translate into a loyal following of brand evangelists. Done right, that following can correlate back to increased revenues and an improving bottom line. Of course, done wrong, a bad customer experience can have a massive negative impact.”

While I am not an expert on customer service, I will tell you I have dealt with enough businesses to give you my opinion. Here are a few ideas which companies can do today to help break the surface tension of what is customer service.

1. Listen. Listen. Listen

Most people just want to be heard. When you fail to let someone finish telling you a complaint, it appears that you don’t really care about the issue. When it comes to dealing with complaints, please take the time to listen to the concern.

A few months ago, I contacted a restaurant after I noticed a charge on my credit card that I didn’t authorize. Long story short, I was able to figure out the waiter had likely swiped my card for another table inadvertently. No biggie with me, I just wanted to make sure it was taken care of. When I called the restaurant, I didn’t even finish telling the manager what I thought had happened when he cut me off and stated that he would offer me a free meal.

I didn’t want a free meal, I just wanted him to listen to the issue and take care of it. I wasn’t mad when I called as I know people make mistakes. However, I was mad by the time I hung up because I had to wait for the manager to finish cutting me off before I could resume telling the story.

Even if you have heard the same complaint millions of times, each person should be allowed to tell it. Doing so helps them vent some of their anger and will give you an opportunity to start displacing that anger with possible solutions.

2. Tell the Truth, Even if It’s Bad

Stop lying to me. I don’t really want excuses; I just want the truth. If you make a mistake, that is perfectly normal and I understand you are human. But, when you try to introduce excuses, then you lose credibility with everything else you are going to say. As an entrepreneur, you need to have high ethical standards, and this needs to translate into your customer service department.

“The biggest reason why you shouldn’t lie to your customers is because there’s no reason to do so,” writes Alexandra Harris in an article on customer service. “So what if your product doesn’t do everything they want? So what if you can’t change a customer’s monthly price? Do you think your customers would rather hear a lie than the truth? Definitely not.”

Believe it or not, customers can handle the truth. Lying will only compound an issue. It shows that you really don’t care there was an issue in the first place, you have no integrity to address the issue, and that you really don’t want that customer’s business ever again.

For more on consumer-oriented service, watch this Fortune video:

3. Say You’re Sorry

You don’t need to give away free products or services to keep your customers happy. Many times, a simple “sorry” will do the trick. People need to feel that their complaint is valid, and sometimes a simple word is the best way to do it.

Some companies teach their representatives to never apologize. But, even the representatives know this is wrong. One user on Quora shared their experience of training for a customer service position.

I was at a customer service job last summer and there was one point in training I went like ‘What?’ They told me: ‘When dealing with an irate customer, whatever you do, NEVER APOLOGIZE.’”

The user continued:

I thought being a good customer service representative was simply treating your customers like people, who you should be kind and courteous to, and follow all the normal social rules, like apologizing when you do something wrong. But, apparently it doesn’t work this way.”

For me as a customer, telling me you’re sorry calms my initial anger of why I am complaining in the first place. Finally, don’t just say it to say it. If you are not sincere, customers will know it and get even more upset.

More from AllBusiness:
6 Strategies to Build Your Business from the Ground Up
10 Rules for Great Customer Service
Does Your Business Have the Right Growth Strategy in Place?

Final Thoughts on Customer Service

I know this article sounds like my opportunity to vent about previous bad experiences. Well, in a way it is, but in addition it can be used as a heads-up for companies wanting to improve customer service.

Old ways of keeping customers happy are no longer working. You need to engage your customers, listen to what they say, and apologize when it is necessary.

Mike Wood is an online marketer, author and Wikipedia expert. He is the founder of, an online marketing agency that specializes in content writing, brand management and professional Wikipedia editing.