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Customer Service: A Game of Skill or a Game of Chance?

Slot machines are a game of chance.

Would any reasonable person try to make a case to the contrary?

Apparently so. A few years ago, when gambling companies ran a successful attempt to loosen up Missouri’s casino laws, some lawmakers actually tried to make the argument that slots are a game of skill.

Huh? Note that I qualified my question above with the word “reasonable.”

Some things are, by definition, left up to chance. Car accidents. Bumping into old friends. And, despite arguments by elected officials to the contrary, slot machines.

But not excellent customer service. recently ran a feature on "Best and Worst Customer Service" in which they used personal stories from real-life consumers to illustrate the customer service found at such brands as McDonald's, Land's End, Best Buy and more.

Here are 4 examples taken from the article. See if you can detect anything related to the reason for the good or bad service from each:

Worst: Sears

"I recently drove into Sears auto and stood at the check-in counter. The lady behind the counter was dealing with another customer ... Ten to fifteen minutes later she was still dealing with the customer. NOT ONCE did she even look at me. Needless to say I just got in my car and drove out."

Best: Macy's

"I was looking for a certain apron and there were none on the sales floor. A salesperson asked me to leave my phone number, and said she would personally go through the boxes and call me. Later my phone rang, and it was the salesperson telling me she had found the aprons and would be happy to ring it up and send it to will-call for me. Wow, what a great employee."

Worst: Dell

"My monitor was dead on arrival. I called Dell customer support and got a guy with a heavy foreign accent who directed me to the manual on CD, provided with the computer. I asked him if he understood the irony of putting the monitor troubleshooting guide on a CD since if the monitor didn't work you'd have no way of reading the guide. After 40 minutes of being on hold and talking to a supervisor, they said they'd have to send a new one -- the very suggestion I'd made at the beginning of the call."

Worst: The Dollar Store

"I set my stuff on the counter to pay. The cashier had to go check a price. She returned with a manager, and I was told that I could not buy five of the things. I wanted to know why. The manager told me that she couldn’t sell them until corporate faxed them the prices for the items.”

Well, did you reach the same conclusion I did … that the first two examples are more of a reflection on individual employees than on the business?

The two remaining stories show how a company can hamstring itself with its policies.

Customer service is a game of skill, not chance. Some of the skills needed to provide an outstanding and consistent customer experience include:

  • Recruiting and hiring people who already understand the importance of customer relationships, and who truly believe in good service

  • Ongoing training and oversight (like secret shoppers and customer surveys) to ensure a continuing high level of service

  • Systems, policies and procedures that support the service effort and reinforce the importance of customer satisfaction

If you run your business without some attention to each of these areas, customer satisfaction will be at the mercy of your employees. What’s that old saying about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link?

You’re lucky if you’ve managed to accidentally hire an employee who “gets it” but that’s a poor way to build a business. Instead, hire the right kind of folks on purpose. Then, give them the tools and support needed to wow your customers.

There is much more skill than chance involved in running a successful business, and that’s particularly true in the customer service realm.

If you’re the owner, your business is likely your most valuable asset and your biggest investment. Take charge of your future, and proactively see to it that your customers are delighted.

Otherwise, you may as well be pulling the lever on a slot machine.


Bill Collier is the author of “How to Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life” and is the St. Louis area coach for The Great Game of Business. He helps businesses teach their employees to think and act like owners. He can be reached at 314-221-8558 or



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