Six signs your service probably stinks

Ouch! This isn’t a very nice title for an article at all. What’s even more biting is that many owners and managers in our industry really seem to be missing the top signs that our service quality quite possibly isn’t all that. “But Bob,” they say, “we provide the best service in the industry! We don’t need any training!”

The fact of the matter is that no matter how good we are, we should always get better at the service we provide. Many people in positions of power throughout our industry today suffer from a massive disconnect with reality when it comes to how their service is being perceived by customers and employees alike. It’s as if we run our business like a horse with blinders on. Those of you who see past the blinders and into the peripheral know you have some issues but for some reason consciously elect to procrastinate on fixing them. Usually this is either because you don’t recognize exactly where the troubles lay, or because you are unwilling to spend any money to repair it.


Let’s take a look at just these six signs and consider whether the money we save by doing nothing is really causing us to leave much more on the table than dollars and sense. This is all especially true with today’s economic situation. What are you doing to light a fire under your team to create passion and specifically empower them to better deal with customers, the economy, and each other? How well do they foster customer loyalty, save accounts, garner more profitable revenue and not compete on price? I see a crystal clear pattern of people missing the red flags. When you’re truly ready to take hefty advantage of today’s economically challenging business arena by handing some exceptional tools to your team and lighting that fire under everyone in your company, I’ll be looking forward to your phone call.  For now, here are six key signs that your service may be in need of some immediate attention and/or training to really raise the bar and become as good as you tell everyone you already are.  


#1: Customer Complaints (even only a few)


Did you know that on average, only about six out of 100 unsatisfied customers actually take the time to complain? In other words, 94% percent of your customer base will never say a word if they think your service stinks. Even worse, when these unsatisfied customers do call up to complain, many front line employees don’t want to deal with complaints and prefer to pass them up the ladder or simply agree to a price reduction to make the problem go away.


Just because you are not receiving many complaints, it is in no way any indication that you’re providing good service. If your employees have not nurtured any kind of relationship with your customers, many of them will simply dump you for a competitor the first time something goes wrong. When complaints are brought forth to your front line team, do you really think this information is getting back to you? Complaints should be deeply treasured, well documented, and shared with management so as to learn as much as you can from this rare and precious feedback. If your team is anything less than enthusiastic to deal with complaints, the first warning sign has just been missed. 


#2: Employees not empowered to handle problems


Unless you empower front line employees to resolve customer complaints and challenges, your service is definitely being perceived as poor. Customer issues should be handled from start to finish by the people you have in place to do just that. Your customers do not want to wait, or even worse be transferred to multiple people to have their problems resolved. With very few exceptions, there is nothing worse than having to repeat the problem over and over again to different people.


This is an amazingly common problem throughout our industry and one which has only one solution. Training! Empower your team with the knowledge and give them the tools to defuse angry customers. Train and empower them to make decisions to resolve these issues and take ownership of them. No matter how good you already think you are at this sign, consider blowing some dust off your wallet to provide on target and industry specific customer service training to help your entire team get better at building relationships and adding value to doing business with your company as opposed to your competitors. If you are unwilling to both train and empower them, the strong message you send everyone is that you just don’t trust them. When you don’t trust them, they will go away, and so will your customers (See sign #3 below). Little or no employee empowerment and training is a three-alarm fire of a sign that your service probably stinks.


#3: Loss of long-term customers


When you lose a long term customer, you have an enormous bill board of a sign. Once you have built a long term relationship with a customer, your ability to retain that customer significantly increases. This is especially true when something goes wrong. When a customer who would normally give you the benefit of the doubt takes their business elsewhere, I am here to tell you it’s almost always about your service.


Think about the good, long-term customers you have lost. What did you do to regain their trust? Were you able to find out the true reason they left, and what did you do with that information to prevent this from happening again in the future? The customers you lose hold the information you need to succeed! No matter what they may tell you, losing a long-time customer is seldom about price, it’s about a loss of faith in the service you provide. How flexible are you at making changes in your policies based on information from lost customers?


#4: Poor employee retention (especially in a horrible job market)


If you have a revolving door of employees, you have no chance to build a relationship with your customers. Knowledge about individual customers walks out the door with every employee you lose. Do you know why they leave? Even more important, what are you not doing to gain their loyalty and longevity?


Sometimes this is a tough problem to identify, and it sometimes takes an outsider to observe your team and operation. Outsiders can see things you are too close to be able to recognize and can create dialogue with employees who will tell them things they would never say to you. This is a sign that is easily missed by upper management. If your front-line employees stay less than three years, you have a bright red flag waiving in the wind.


#5: Few referrals and low percentage of renewing customers


A new sale followed by a new cancellation is not a terrific business strategy. Taking one out for every account you put in affords you the opportunity of working real hard to stay right where you’re at. If your service is so outstanding (and as business owners, we all tend to think our service is better than our competitors) why aren’t more of your delighted customers sending referrals your way?  Slow organic growth and low renewals are, with very few exceptions, a direct reflection of how your service is being perceived.


If your sales team is generating new business everyday but you are taking out as many (or more) than you put in; you might take a look at your service to find out why. When the service relationship you provide exceeds the expectations of your customers, you have an open door to ask for more referrals. At the same time, you can expect to garner a higher percentage of renewals when your service creates a relationship that emotionally bonds people to your company. The old customer moving out of a home does everything he can to help sell your security service to the new prospect moving in. At the same time if your service is truly outstanding, why on earth wouldn’t he take you at his new location if he moves within your market?


To quote a wise old mentor, “Satisfied customers buy from you, but delighted customers sell for you.” How do you teach your team to create an emotional bond to doing business with your organization? How much does it cost you not too? There are many simple “no-cost” ways to generate more referrals and resigns when you provide excellent service. If #5 applies to you, your service probably is probably the reason because it stinks.


#6: Low employee morale


How educated are you in terms of employee morale? If morale is low, your customers will absolutely know it. They will never say a word, but they will feel it. Low morale is not necessarily a result of stinky service; it usually creates service that stinks. When your customers are suffering, rest assured your employees are too.


As company managers and owners, the hardest pill for most of us to swallow is the answer to why morale is so low. Here’s a hint: It may have to do with how you conduct yourself. How employees feel about working in any organization is like a river; it always flows from the top down. What is the big boss doing to instill a sense of empowerment and passion throughout the company? How are challenges addressed and who are in positions of leadership throughout the organization? Consider proactive steps you can take to instill pride throughout the company, and examine how (or whether) your management team hands out rewards and recognition.


Ask the following questions: Do you actively train employees and managers with tools to make their work life easier and more rewarding? Is there a team spirit in your organization which nurtures accomplishment, or is everyone in fear of making a mistake and covering their “you know what”? Do you empower them to make decisions? And if so, how do you train them to make good ones? Low morale is the most costly of the six signs, and one which is blamed on something else far too often.


There are obviously more than six signs to identify service that stinks, but these are the top ones to take a hard and honest look at immediately. If you recognize any single one of the six as something happening at your company, I highly encourage you to focus some meaningful attention toward redirecting it. If you recognize more than one, every minute you procrastinate and keep telling yourself how great your service is will cost you big in direct, out-of-pocket dollars. Being too frugal to train your team is penny wise and thousands of dollars foolish! Those of you who proactively train and make corrections to these issues will have little trouble taking the other guy’s dollars and putting them in your pocket -- especially in today’s economy where customers are looking for a good value for their dollars!


Today, exceptional service has become the exception to the rule. When you make the effort to improve it even just a little, you will be rewarded with sustainable loyalty and profitable growth simply because your competitors aren’t and their customers know it. Always remember the rule: A satisfied customer is eight times more likely to switch to a competitor than a delighted customer is. Mere satisfaction isn’t good enough and unless you heed the signs, I’m sorry but your service probably stinks.

About the author: Bob Harris is Founder and President of The Attrition Busters. With over 30 years in the alarm industry, he provides seminars, business consulting, and workshops to help great companies become even better. Bob can be reached at (818) 730-4690 or by email at Learn more about The Attrition Busters at