Spot the Customer Ownership Mentality Before It's Too Late

Customers think they own things they really don't.

It's an instinctive thing. I first noticed this quirk of human nature years ago as a customer service trainer. Whenever I'd facilitate a multi-day class, people would invariably return to the same seat on day two.

Seats weren't assigned. It's just that people felt it was their seat.

Participants would even get a little uncomfortable if they arrived to find someone sitting where they had sat the day before. No reasonable person could lay claim to that seat, but you could tell they secretly thought it belonged to them.

I've since noticed this in many customer service situations. Here's an overview along with some tips on handling it.

Hey! That's My Seat

The seat issue happened on a recent Southwest Airlines flight that was delayed because of weather. Southwest doesn't have assigned seating, but that didn't stop people from thinking they owned their seat.

The flight crew handled flight delay very well. They made an announcement and told us it would be awhile. We could de-plane if we wanted to. Most people did.

A few people from our flight were re-booked on different flights so they wouldn't miss their connection. Other passengers from later flights joined ours. This meant the passenger mix was slightly different when everyone re-boarded the plane.

Per Southwest's open seating policy, the new passengers sat wherever they found an agreeable open seat. Of course, this often meant they chose to sit where someone else had been sitting before we de-planed because of the weather delay.

I could hear more than a few passengers exclaim, "Hey! That's my seat!"

Seats weren't assigned, but passengers felt they owned the seat by virtue of having sat there first. Some displayed some genuine distress despite the frequent and gentle reminders from the flight crew that Southwest Airlines has open seating.


Other Ownership Examples

There are other situations where customers can think they own things they really don't.

It happens when customers are assigned dedicated account managers. They start to develop a relationship with that person. They think their account manager is their account manager.

Trouble can happen when that account managers leaves the company or some accounts need to be re-assigned or re-distributed. Customers get upset. They feel slighted. Often, their business follows the account manager to the new company.

Perks are another great example. 

It's tired news that airlines have made people unhappy by taking away inflight meals. What people conveniently forget is that nobody liked those meals! They were the target of universal disdain. Comedians made a living by poking fun at how bad airplane food was.

But, now that they're gone, we feel slighted.

My local hardware store used to offer customers free bags of freshly popped pop corn. One day, the popcorn machine was gone. A store employee explained that they had to get rid of the popcorn because of some sort of health code issue (apparently, you need a permit or something - I didn't fully understand it, but it sounded reasonable). It made sense what the store had to do, but customers were disappointed.

At the grocery store, try shopping out of someone else's shopping cart and see how they like it! (Just kidding - don't try that.)


Prevent The Ownership Problem

There are a few things you can do to prevent the customer ownership mentality from causing service failures.

The first thing you should do is get proactive. Identify situations where this is likely to impact your customers. Create a plan to ease the pain.

The second thing you should do is set clear expectations.

The Southwest Airlines flight crew did a great job of continuously reminding people that the flight featured open seating. This prevented the ownership issue from getting worse.

If you have dedicated account managers, make sure your customers get to know a few other people. This might include other support staff or a back-up account manager who can help out if the regular person is on vacation or out sick. Setting up multiple relationships will ease the transition if their favorite account manager leaves the company or is re-assigned.

The final thing you should do is avoid taking something away from a customer that they are likely to think is theirs.

That means keeping perks in place whenever possible. Or, if you have to take something away, give customers something better in exchange.

Squarespace is a great example of this. They provide cloud-based software that makes it easy to create websites.

A few years ago, they upgraded their platform. This upgrade had many new features, but existing users had to convert their websites to the new platform to take advantage of those new features. 

Squarespace's remarkable decision was to continue supporting the old platform indefinitely while giving existing customers the option to upgrade their website to the new platform at no charge.

They gave, without taking away.

Welcome to the new Toister Performance Solutions website

You may notice a few changes if you visit the Toister Performance Solutions website with any regularity.  I've just migrated from the Squarespace 5 platform to Squarespace 6.

If you're not familiar with Squarespace, I can tell you that I'm a huge fan of their product and an even bigger fan of their outstanding customer service.

Here's a very brief rundown of what's new:


Most people visiting the Toister Performance Solutions website are reading my Next Level Customer Service blog. Many of these visitors are using a mobile device such as a phone or tablet. In fact, the number of mobile visitors has increased by 50% from this time a year ago.

The old website wasn't optimized for mobile. The new one is. It looks much, much better. 

If you are reading this post on your PC, try scanning the QR Code below wih your mobile device to view the mobile version.


Updated Look

It was definitely time for a new look. The new website is cleaner and simpler. It makes it easier for people to learn what Toister Performance Solutions does and determine if we might be able to work together. 

Here's how the old and new homepages compare: 

The old site:

The new site: 


Easier Conversations

The new website makes it easier to engage in conversations by integrating Disqus into the blog. Disqus provides far more options for interaction than the commenting system on the old site. 

There is one small drawback. Implementing Disqus hides all of the comments from the previous system. I'm working on a way to add them back in. 

Want to try it out? Share, like, comment, star, or follow this post using the links below.  

A few final notes... 

  1. You can subscribe to this blog via email by using the "Get this Blog Via Email" box on the right side of the screen.
  2. There are bound to be errors despite extensive proofreading and testing. Please let me know if you find one.

5 Ways Squarespace Gets Service Right

I spend a lot of time diagnosing service failures, but occasionally I like to profile an organization that’s doing something right. One of those organizations is Squarespace, a company that provides (in their words) “everything you need to create an exceptional website.” Their amazing customer service is a template that we can all learn from, but I also have an ulterior motive for writing this post. I want to publicly encourage them to keep up the good work.

Here are five things we can all learn from Squarespace:

1. Offer a great product that's simple to use
I’m currently building my fourth website using Squarespace, this one for my upcoming book Service Failure. I'm not very technical and don't want to hire an expensive web designer, so Squarespace is a perfect solution. You can use Squarespace to secure your domain name, design your website, and add content all without ever touching a bit of code. Best of all, it's easy to learn and use and their stuff just works.

I wish I could say the same thing about all the technology I work with, but too often I find it difficult to master, riddled with glitches, or both. Customers can be delighted with a great product, but they can also be delighted with the absence of aggravation.

2. Provide value
Squarespace is constantly enhancing the value they provide to their customers. For example, earlier this year they changed their pricing structure to simplify their plans. In my case, they actually offered me a credit when I switched plans because they were now offering more for less.

Compare that to other well-publicized price changes, such as Netflix's 60% price hike or Bank of America's infamous plan to charge debit card users $5 per month. Pricing is clearly a sensitive topic, but you'll win a lot of hearts and minds if you give customers more for less rather than less for more.

3. Respond quickly to customer inquiries
Squarespace clearly realizes that many of their customers are technically challenged like me, but that doesn't mean we're patient when we encounter a problem. Thankfully, whenever I've sent Squarespace an email to ask for assistance I've quickly heard back from an elite member of their support team who was able to help. Their responses are fast, thorough, and professional.

This stands out from companies who don't respond quickly, respond but don't actually resolve your problem, or don't respond at all. Customers hate to wait and we really don't like going back and forth either (see my survey on email response times). When we need help we want it fast and Squarespace gets that.

4. Be authentic and human
Customers crave authenticity, and nothing kills authenticity faster than overly scripted communication. Squarespace’s website, blog posts, customer emails are all straightforward, easy to understand, and are unencumbered by flowery marketing dreck. Better yet, their support professionals are allowed to use their own unique personalities when communicating with customers.

Authenticity is a breath of fresh air when we're used to dealing with so many customer service reps who are required to stay within a tightly controlled box (I really don't like scripts). 

5. Think like a customer
Squarespace recently announced a new version of their service, Squarespace 6, that promises to be a quantum leap forward from their existing platform. At the same time, they’ve wisely opted to indefinitely support users on the old system. Why is this important? Because it recognizes the extensive time and effort many of us have put into building our websites. Providing continued support means we aren’t forced to make the change. Of course, they’re also offering to let users make the switch for free, even allow people to running both versions at the same time, so users are tempted to try out version 6.

This is an example of seeing things from a customer's point of view. A company lacking in customer focus may have become so enamored with their new technology that they forced everyone to switch. This strategy gives Squarespace a way to attract new customers or delight existing ones without giving their most loyal fans a reason to be upset.