Customer service skills are easy. But in many instances they are impeded and compromised by inadequate, superficial and narrowly focused corporate cultures.

Well scripted mission statements, philosophies and visions, that abound on display on office walls, are insufficient and often misleading. They seldom detail and articulate the underlying driving force (which makes things happen).

As a consequence, considerable resources and funds are channelled to processes that reduce costs and seek to enhance internal efficiency … at the cost of customer and client satisfaction.

Under – and unutilised customer skills often remain, unrecognised, not valued, not supported and not implemented, by a lack of delegated authority. This is to the detriment of unfulfilled customer advantages, benefits and rewards.

RESULT:        The importance of customer service is appreciated, but remains unrealised, to the dismay of front-line service providers and recipients.


In many ways, customer and client satisfaction is determined by, and measured against expectations and initial experiences encountered before personal interactions with key service providers. Pre-programmed, automatic telephone systems, which often do not provide the option of immediate access to personal service professionals remain a source of annoyance, frustration, dismay and dissatisfaction.

It is difficult to recover from heightened anxiety, frustration and annoyance. Neutralising such emotions may be deemed to be a commendable milestone – but it is a long way short of satisfaction, delight and exuberance.

A case in point is the declaration by Centrelink that wait-times on the telephone line had been reduced substantially … to around 17 minutes.

Against the benchmark of service excellence being achieved when incoming calls are answered within three rings (that’s 9 seconds), it is little wonder that the public at large is left speechless, and fuming.

Department stores, particularly those in Australia, are reporting losses in sales, revenue, profits, market share and customers.

In recent times, senior management and Boards of Directors have declared commitments to a number of customer-focused endeavours, numbered among which are training in customer services.

Such utterances fall short, well short. As do the number of available and accessible service providers.

The consensus consumer perception for the Australian department store sector is that it is difficult to find staff members.

So having highly trained, qualified team members, who possess great product knowledge count for little if they are insufficient in numbers and can’t readily be found “on the shop floor”.

REFLECT:       Excellent skills, contrasted by inadequate culture compromise customer service standards.

Successful leaders of the largest Australian mining company, BHP, do not need to be engineers or geologists.  Similarly, being an IT wonk is not an essential pre-requisite to take the mantle of chief executive for Apple.

However, there is a universal need for all senior executive and non-executive ranks to be alive to the need for, and nature of customer service delivery.

Financial spreadsheets do not necessarily measure relevant performance standards.

REFLECT:       Context and ambience are as important as content to achieve satisfaction, and peace-of-mind.


The manner, and speed in which product returns, quality issues and service deficiencies are addressed and resolved are key indicators of the degree to which a positive service corporate culture prevails, and is applied by all.

A need to refer matters to another person or department mars the experience of a disenchanted customer, and possible long-term business advocate.

Delegated authority improves morale, contributes to staff loyalty, stabilises team compositions and reassures customers that they are dealing with people who are willing, and have the capacity to resolve issues to their satisfaction.


For some, follow-up to customers who have just outlaid considerable funds to do business is expensive, time-consuming and does not necessarily generate additional referrals and revenue. Moreover, unease is common among some entities that are reluctant to expose themselves to inviting expressions of dissatisfaction from customers.

Some things are better to know first-hand. Third-hand endorsements and complaints are difficult to manage, counter, contain or to negate.

Open, two-way communication is a key characteristic to sustaining positive relationships, client satisfaction and to achieving loyalty.


Customer service initiatives are commendable, and particularly relevant at this time. Each should be universally embraced and applied.  With service excellence there is no place to hide.

However, big budget allocations alone are not enough.

Training undertaken by team members should, indeed, must, involve senior management and Board members. Active participation is positive. At the very least, training participants will feel rewarded, and be reassured that they have been heard when at the conclusion of the program they are able to deliver personal presentations of considered and determined action plans to senior executives and non-executives. It’s the very least one would expect of a customer-focused/driven/centric/first entity.

 Barry Urquhart

Conference Keynote Speaker

Marketing Focus

M:        041 983 5555