Does Great Customer Service Still Matter?


Switch and Shift is dedicated to sharing one undeniable business principle: in our uber-connected, modern world, the human side of business is not just “nice” or “the right thing to do”.

Even more than either of those considerations, a relentless focus on people – inside the company and out – is absolutely essential to a business’s survival. For our February blog series, we invited some of the world’s most admired customer service experts to share their insights on this point from a customer-facing perspective.


A relentless focus on people is absolutely essential to a business’s survival


Amazing customer service is an area that has been near and dear to me since childhood; something I shared in my first book, Five-Star Customer Service. In Chapter One of that book, I share the story of my kinda-sorta ancestor, George Boldt, the first general manager and eventual owner of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. George’s starting salary (in 1892!) was $1 million a year. Boldt’s unrelenting passion for serving his customers led his employer to tell him, “I would gladly have paid you more.” As you can imagine, Boldt’s story left an impression on my young mind.


 Unrelenting passion for serving his customers led his employer to tell him, “I would gladly have paid you more.”


When running my first company, I was determined not to lose a single client to our competitors. So my staff and I spoiled them rotten – so rotten they’d be ruined for the competition. It worked, and we thrived.


 I was determined not to lose a single client to our competitors. So my staff and I spoiled them rotten


Over the years, I have counseled thousands of business leaders on the business case for top-rate service. I’ve also made some remarkable friends along the way – other experts and business leaders who get it, and who are talented at sharing their perspectives with others.

Does great customer service still matter in the Twenty-Teens? Will it get your company where you want it to go, profit-wise? I’m all about real-world examples. Here are just a few.

When you think, “Does service matter…?”

  • Think Nordstrom, which uses the differentiator of phenomenal service to command a high price point. Discounts are rare at this extraordinary retailer: Nordstom doesn’t need gimmicks to inspire its shoppers.
  • Think Chick Fil-A, which uses jaw-dropping service to dominate the fast food market wherever a new franchise is launched.
  • Think Rackspace, whose customers refer to the company as “fanatically customer obsessed”. Rackspace wins tightly-contested B2B sales battles this way every day of the week, all year long.

You could do worse than to emulate these three market leaders. But there are more – so many more. Come back each day over the next two weeks, as extraordinary thinkers in the realm of five-star service share their perspective with you, our community.


Want more? The customer service series continues here: On Creating Customer Loyalty

 Graphic by Shawn Murphy

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Ted, I agree in principal and in practice. That said, aiming to make every customer a satisfied customer works in environments where there are margins to allow for the cost of bad customers. A great customer service strategy requires that organizations have a means to deal with customers you’ll never satisfy, especially in high volume, low margin businesses.

    When you get a client who disrupts how you serve them and distracts you from looking after the good ones, it simply costs you money. I’ve personally taken the stance that there’s some customers I don’t want. I’ve let them know that they will be better served elsewhere and it’s paid off.

  • Yep – customer centricity is key. Whether you’re serving a client or building a product you absolutely must keep the customer in mind first and foremost.

    • Yes. Dollars and cents are only one way of looking at it. Having the customers you want is about providing better value to those customers, doing something unique for them, maintaining quality, etc.

      That said, there’s a lot to be learned from customers don’t reciprocate no matter how well you try to serve them. When that happens I default to the Covey line, ‘In order to change the behavior of others, first change your own’.

  • Gurmeet Singh Pawar


    This is a great post & I would second your view on the matter. I believe Customer orientation is the greatest strategic move that can keep company up & profitably running in the long run.

    About the concern of Alan, I agree with him on the same. But rather than it being a matter about customer orientation, its about target segmentation. What concerns him is more about who are his customer & who not. Once you have clearly defined your target segmentation(Which is your prerogative), its all about how well your organisation adapt to this sound strategy.

  • Great post, Ted. Most companies out there can’t compete on price over the long haul, so they must compete on value, but what an opportunity competing on value presents! There are many ways to do it, but exceptional customer service and creating optimal customer experiences is definitely one way to get there – the examples you cite, such as Nordstrom, have made it an art form. When I go into Nordstrom to buy a nice pair of jeans, I know I am going to pay a premium, but they make the experience so easy and pleasant, I don’t even think of going anywhere else, and I know I will keep going back.

  • Pingback: Why Customer Service is a Leadership Issue | Switch and Shift()

  • Steven Anderson

    Great post and follow on thread…thank you, Ted! I’m particularly keen on your (and this group’s) thoughts on customer-centrism through product design and implementation as opposed to high touch sales and support. I’m fascinated by companies like 37Signals who are game-changers across entire, global industries signing up thousands of new customers a week and creating Ruby on Rails with less than 20 employees. They embody customer focus through their product design, done quite successfully through spartan esthetics and functionality. This form of product specific customer attention seems to scale infinitely better than operational attention (like Nordstroms).

  • Last point from me…some organizations define service by being clear about what you don’t get. The classic is Europe’s Ryan Air. From the CEO on down, there is absolute clarity about the service. The CEO has attempted to charge for in-flight washrooms, tried to get permission for in-flight standing room passengers, etc. Some of this is his absolute mania for getting free press coverage of the obnoxious concepts (by industry standards) he promotes. However, he keeps re-defining the status quo and people still fly his airline. Point is, define your customer service and experience standards and live them.

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