Is Great Customer Service Enough?

August 27, 2012

Obviously, we focus almost exclusively on the topics of customer service and the customer experience here at Customers That Stick. We believe that a great customer experience and superior follow up  are some of the key differentiators between a healthy organization poised for long term success and an unhealthy enterprise bleeding out its potential future.

Such lofty beliefs in the power of great customer service beg a simple question: is great customer service enough?

The answer is just as simple:

No, it is not.

When I refer to great customer service (which we will use in in broadest sense to include the larger customer experience), I am not comparing it to incredible customer service or amazing customer service. I am not asking is great enough because it is not a strong enough superlative, as if great doesn’t cut it but incredible does. I am asking is great customer service, in and of itself, enough to make an enterprise successful?

And again, the answer is no. Customer service is not the only component of a successful organization.

  • You need sales and marketing to effectively generate customers.
  • You need operations and distribution to make sure products are delivered to market.
  • You need accounting and finance to effectively manage cash flow and financial risk.
  • And you need legal and IT to give you a reason to drink after work. 🙂

You see, customer service will not save you if you buy your raw goods 30% higher than your competition or you turn 25% fewer services in a day. Pan Am airlines was known for its great customer service; yet, the company (and its TV show) no longer exist.

Other factors mattered, and great customer service was not enough.

A company needs a lot of things besides great service to succeed.

Thanks for Nothing

I can hear it now. Thanks, Adam, for making me read 300 words of the patently obvious.

Yet, I wrote this post because the above does not seem to be that obvious. A lot of the customer service advice I read seems divorced from the realities above.

Customer service does not exist in a vacuum. Customer issues must be handled with an understanding of potential liability. Employee happiness must be encouraged within an ever-constricting HR environment.

A business is the sum of its parts, and a great business breaks down silos and synergizes its many functions to work as a cohesive whole — or at least works towards that goal.

But What About Great Customer Service?

Without great customer service, you cannot have a great business. I truly believe that.

In a great business, the customer permeates every department and is considered in any decision which might affect their experience.

In a great business, the customer is the king and customer service is more than just the initiative of the month.

And that is as it should be, for outside of monopolies and oligopolies, great customer service is no longer optional; it is a competitive necessity.

However, despite how important great customer service is to a successful enterprise, it does not stand alone. Great customer service will not save a business that is not being run effectively and profitably, that is not adapting to its environment and improving its efficiency.

So, my advice is as follows: read this blog regularly and send your customers thank you notes. But make sure you call your accountant once in awhile.

Have you seen businesses with great customer service fail?

13 thoughts on “Is Great Customer Service Enough?”

  1. Ah yes, many moving parts. You actually have to get the customer in the door to practice great customer service, right? And don’t worry about HR, I keep my refrigerator stocked and we celebrate around here like we are Mad Men or something……but then again, I’m old school……:).

    I play tennis with friend on Wednesday nights. After our match we frequent a mom and pop wing place. Great service, great ambiance, great crowd….they just closed their doors. I ‘heard’ wings started costing them .85 apiece but they were still selling them for .45 apiece because they thought they’d lose business by raising the prices……….yikes………they lost business alright. So yes, great customer service alone will not sustain you.

    I’m looking out my window at the feeder bands go by; a good day to be inside that’s for sure.

    1. Wow, thanks for that story about the wing place Bill. That’s exactly the kind of thing that happens. We focus on customer service because so many organizations are so bad at it, and it’s so unnatural to so many. But there are some people, including small business owners, who just naturally give great service — the challenge is that great service given to an unprofitable customer is, well, unprofitable — and, of course, unsustainable.

  2. My takeaway? “Customer service does not exist in a vacuum.” And nor do any and all business practices. I still hear people talk about business like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with no knowledge of what the entire picture looks like. Marketing…sales…customer service…HR…as if each is a puzzle piece that’s been dropped on the floor, with little, if any, hybrid vigour. Unless business owners grasp the inter-relatedness, connections and interdependence of these “departments”, it remains a right-hand-doesn’t-know-what-the-left-is-doing. And no amount of customer service will make up for, mask or correct that. Cheers! Kaarina

    1. You’re so right Kaarina — and I like the puzzle piece analogy! While I obviously believe in the power of great customer service, it can only do so much. The puzzle pieces, as you say, need to be connected and attended to.

  3. Good advice, Adam. And, it definitely cuts both ways – if you have everything else in place, but fail in the customer service department, you lose. But, great customer service alone, also cannot save you.

    Well said!

  4. Adam, one of the things we’ve learned the hard way is that trying to keep costs low by doing everything yourself (bookkeeping, accounting, legal, etc.) will hurt your business rather than increase profit margins.

    A self-employed friend told me recently that she hired someone for $150/week to write one piece of content a week for her blog, share three value-laden Tweets a day, and upload one great post a day on her Facebook Page. The friend uses her own limited social media time to “fill in the gaps,” retweet, reply, and reach out. She says that single move has freed her up to devote more time to other business needs and grow her business.

    1. That’s a good point about larger business considerations Michelle. It is imperative, particularly for small business owners, to know when to replace themselves in certain areas of the business. Most SMB owners are Jacks and Jills of all trades, and we find it difficult sometimes to let go, even when someone else can do the job better or cheaper.

  5. G’Day Adam,
    Well bloody said! Like you, I’m a specialist. My speciality is improving employee performance without using training programs. But if I’ve learnt one thing in over 30 years in business, it’s this: marketing isn’t everything, but everything is marketing.

    If a business lacks a clear, precise focus and a narrow specific target market, all the hounds of heaven in full support won’t make it successful.

    “Customer service,” admirable as it is, needs to be spelt out in performance terms to be effective. And so does PR, HR, Quality, Productivity and all those you beaut, trendy management virtues.

    Coincidentally, I have a blog post coming next week of the dangers of trendy jargon. Check it out on

    Have fun
    Best Wishes

    1. I appreciate it Leon. You make a great point about “clear, precise focus’ because no matter what area of business we are talking about it needs to be tightly focused on supporting the serving of that specific market you speak of. One of the things that I like about emphasizing the customer experience, not just customer service, is that it really embraces your concept that everything is marketing and that all points of the customer experience are important and “market” your business (for better or worse).

      I look forward to the jargon post.

      All the best!

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