Management Tips

Is Customer Service really that big of a deal?

Damn. Post redundancy. Is customer service a big deal? What?


You would have to be nuts to disagree with that.

I was reading Lisa Gerber‘s post over at Spin Sucks yesterday and it was enough of a catalyst for me to write about this topic too. Why? Well, while I was reading about her great experience in good ole Canada it made me wonder how I reacted to a client on Wednesday.

I have never written directly about customer service and now wonder why. My job is really all about that. When I think about it I really don’t actually design anything. My time is spent managing relationships and managing teams to ensure we meet the needs and expectations of our clients.

Is that customer service?

Well, it is to me.

So here’s what happened but first a bit of context.

I have been very, very busy lately. So what? We are ALL busy. Sounds like an excuse.

I have been a bit cranky lately. Why? Who the hell knows? Not enough sleep maybe. So what, right? My own fault.

I have a LOT of competing priorities right now. Again, I think, so what? Isn’t there always?

My friend Ruth Zive can tell you all about what I am referring to here and thanks for the ass-kicking Ruth.

I am the kind of guy that isn’t afraid to make and admit my mistakes. That’s probably why so many people – ahem – love me – ahem.






So, one of my client’s project managers (they have many) called me yesterday about a project that we have had some trouble with. It’s a complex problem that is taking a bit of time to even define the scope of work around and his client, whom we both serve, is breathing down his neck to get the problem solved before the winter. Winter? Damn boy, it’s August. Well we all know it takes time to design, price and build a solution so the winter (i.e. December) is not a long way off. So, the pressure is on. We have spent weeks trying to sort out the best way to attack the issues.

Now, my friends, this project manager is really a sweetheart.

He is an older gentleman and is still working because he needs to support himself. I know that he is alone and thereby he really loves the company when he can get it. I know all this because I have spoken to him in depth about the work he does and in general, at times, about his life and pursuits. He seems a little lonely so I generally give him some time when he calls because he just enjoys the banter.

Hey, we usually get along famously.

There was a time recently where he had a serious virus and was feeling terrible. He called me to talk about a project he was starting and during the discussion mentioned that he was very ill and his doctor was concerned that he may need some treatment over the weekend if his condition worsened. He sounded worried. He didn’t have anyone at home to take care of him and his family is gone. I felt for him so I offered that if he needed help over the weekend that he could call me and I would come by and drive him to the doctor. Fortunately, he was starting to feel better the next day.

So, what’s the problem here?

Well, on Wednesday he called me about this difficult project we were trying to sort out and asked me for what I can only assume was a favour. The ball was really in his court to make a decision on the options we presented and I really had no time for him that day because I was feeling pressure to get some work out the door that had been lagging. There was also some personal crap (crap = busy, stressed, competing priorities) going on with me so I tried to blow him off. Ouch!

His request was quite simple enough but I argued.

The ridiculous part about it was that by the time we had finished the conversation we both could have solved the problem.

I agreed to help in the end but that day I was less than happy about it and in actual fact the task took very little time to complete. Even worse. Damn. What he wanted was insignificant in the grand scheme of the day’s activities and at the time I didn’t care to think it was important at all but after reading Lisa’s post I realised that it was.

My client asked me for a favour not to move a mountain.

He called because he considered me an asset (maybe that day emphasis on the ass) and maybe even a friend. All he got in return that day was attitude.

No one is perfect.

We all know that but the right approach is to listen and help wherever you can. We are all in customer service in this, the A+D industry, just as parallels can be drawn for many other industries. If you have a client, you are in customer service.

I see simply as that.

A long time ago when I was young (and clearly not as well seasoned) an owner at one of the companies I worked for, a small start-up at the time, said to me that we are in the business to serve our clients. I will never forget that simple bit of advice even if at the time I thought it didn’t entirely make sense. Hell, I was in the business to DESIGN stuff.

Well, I am still in the business because design is still my passion but that passion now comes from a happy client and my contribution to that happiness is to be there for my clients when they need me. There will always be competing priorities, we will always have more than we can do and we will naturally trend toward finding the easiest way to solve problems but remembering that your client is as important in the process as the design solution is critical to your success.

It helps to keep your Net Promoter score on an upswing too. And speaking of that the old adage of treat others the way you want to be treated seems to be the right way to wrap up this little story.

Don’t you agree?






About this Author: Ralph Dopping (199 Posts)

A quirky sense-o-humour coupled with an indelible sense of stylish sarcasm makes it difficult to take the world too seriously doesn't it? My faves: fun, passion and hard work. I work here everyday:


I do agree. I'm also a big believer in treating others like you would like to be treated; regardless if they will ever be in a position to help you later. 


I'm also a big believer in servant leadership as well; be willing to roll up your sleeves too. 


We are all in customer service in some form or fashion. 

Jens-Petter Berget
Jens-Petter Berget

Like @Hajra   I believe customer service is a big deal. It's more important than the product you're selling. Many times I buy from businesses, just because they're awesome. When I buy my Apple products, I drive 45 minutes to get to the store with the best customer service. I could have bought it from anywhere, but I want to buy from the people that behave like they're my friends :)


And, if they make mistakes, they'll admit them and say they're sorry and I'll forgive them within a few minutes. I'm sure they will :)

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Customer service is a big deal! ;) And yes, if you have made a mistake then stand up to it. People will appreciate that you are honest about it rather than being branded as the big fat liar later on! :) 


Hi, Ralph, love your honesty when looking in the mirror. Most of us will admit to having experienced the same and especially with a trusted customer, we allow ourselves a certain leniency with them.


Like Caitlin I immediately thought "I hope Ralph has apologized, your project manager deserves it."


Have a relaxing weekend and recharge your batteries with a round of golf!


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Alright the commenting system is back (Your commenting system was down today morning, I had notified you via Twitter, hope you saw it).


Oh, yes, back to the conversation (Oops, I forgot what I wrote today morning, let me think :D).


Oh, yes. Appreciate your honesty and courage to realize and admit your mistake, Ralph. It takes a lot to do that.


I also liked the fact that you had developed a nice relationship with the project manager (an awesome trust worthy relationship, truly a lesson to learn there - especially for business these days who don't care about relationships).


You are right - We should treat others they want we want to be treated by them (Even if they treat in a bad way, over time, they can treat us in a good way, given that we treat them very well and they are willing to change).

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Caitlin Kelly
Caitlin Kelly

I hope you called back to apologize to him...? It takes a lot of trust and confidence in our clients/vendors to confide in us personally and so it's a double diss if you blew him off.


This week has been really lousy because a new-to-me client is clearly extremely unhappy with a story I wrote for her. This never happens, nor can my revenue stream accommodate a sudden loss like this.


I'm unhappy because she utterly failed -- before I began -- to clearly, and in writing, lay out her expectations. Now she is unhappy because I didn't meet them. I'm not a mind-reader! This means a serious potential loss of income to me (that I cannot quickly replace); the loss of her as a client means less because this sort of disorganized style is not what I want to work with. It's also very Canadian; every time I (why?) work with a Canadian editor they want too much work for very low fees, and then they want even more work because they were unclear at the start.


Not going to happen. So I do try hard to delight most of my clients, but some I'm happy to leave behind. The PITA factor is too high.





rdopping moderator

 @bdorman264 We are indeed all in CS. More than we know. It really just comes back down to being a good person and if you are big enough to say you make a mistake then you are cool in my books. After all, we are all human so mistakes are part of our DNA. What doesn't seem to be is the ability to face them head on. It has to be learned.


Thanks for your comment  @bdorman264  and I do hope you enjoyed your BD weekend.

rdopping moderator

 @Jens  @Hajra  Yeah, I hear those Apple people are well trained in CS. Just another tool in their arsenal to take over the world. It's pretty awesome that you will go out of your way to go to a place just because you feel like you are treated like Numero Uno. That's a HUGE lesson. Good on ya, Jens


Fixing your mistakes is huge too, don't you think? It makes so much sense as we are all fallible but many people's ego won't let them see past their nose that they actually take responsibility for their own errors. It is admirable and a big plus when someone is willing to own up to their errors.


Thanks for your time and your comments here. I do appreciate you coming by.

rdopping moderator

 @Hajra  A bit fat liar! How did you know I was fat? ;-) That's it! Off to the gym with me.


You know, all kidding aside, when you are honest with people, up front, it might sting a bit but then you can put it behind you. It's done. If you make something up or don't address the issue it hangs there until you do. If too many pile up then it just becomes a mess.


Thanks for popping in. We have been away so I feel like I am responding late. Hope you are well and you had an enjoyable weekend.

rdopping moderator

 @Late_Bloomers Thanks. Golf I did and it was a disaster this weekend but still fun. For your and @Caitlin Kelly sake I have spoken to this PM several time since and we are back on track. I did mention to him that I should not have given him a hard time and he understood and said it was no big deal. I believe him.


I hope you are well and that you also enjoyed your weekend in you neck of the world. :-)

rdopping moderator

Hi  @timbo1973 . It's great to see you back. I wholeheartedly agree. Anyone can be a customer and we tend to forget that even though that is one of the most important aspects anyone can learn about business today. It really just goes back to being treated the way you want to be treated, doesn't it. 


The customer is king but customers can also be abusive. Are they still king then? When they are manipulative? Tough scenarios but still important to be treated with care and caution as you never know when you will come across them again. Even when it is painful professionalism is always the best course of action, no? Get out as soon as you can but always in a professional manner.


I do appreciate your comments here and you time. Thanks.

rdopping moderator

Hey  @Jeevanjacobjohn Thanks for dropping by. I see there have been issues with Livefyre. I may need to upgrade but you know I like those guys over there. They actually get back you you quickly and offer to help so I am sticking with them for now. To me Lifevfyre has decent CS for a free software platform that coming from a bit of a techno-peasant.


Sorry it took so long to get back to you here. We were away for a few days. Thanks for your comment. There are times when a relationship does not work for me. In business, when respect is one sided then you have to take a closer look. If  over time that improves through trust then ok but if not then it might be time to evaluate whether the relationship is worthwhile. To your point, if someone is not willing then maybe it's not worth it.

rdopping moderator

 @Caitlin Kelly Well, well. Nice to see you back here Caitlin. I have been remiss in stopping by your place of late but have seen that you are busy over there. No, I didn't call him back but a colleague did with the information he wanted. He'll be fine.


Clear communication is so critical to success isn't it? New relationships are especially important for this as you can well admit. The more you get to know someone the easier it gets to anticipate their needs. I feel for you because I have been in that position before too. At times, it leaves you scratching your head.


As a person who doesn't run his own business the luxury of leaving a client behind is not mine. I have to find ways to make it work and I do. For you I imagine the opportunity needs to be right before you waste your valuable time.


Good to see you here. Have a fab weekend. :-)


 @rdopping Yeah, they are known for their design and service ;) I wanted to try it, but majority of my audience seems to like the default WP commenting system.


No problem, Ralph. Yes, that can happen often, especially because the new customers don't trust as often. But, like you said, over time, the relationship builds up and adds trust to the mix.


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Caitlin Kelly
Caitlin Kelly

 @rdopping I admit to being pretty fussy at this point. The clients I work best with know what I offer, want it and don't second-guess or micro-manage. But my business -- writing and editing -- is pretty different from yours, with fewer moving parts. And, as a solo practitioner, I don't need to meet payroll beyond my own needs.


I work best with clients who trust I'll give them something terrific. This one is really anxious, in general, which is not a good fit.