How Invisible Ropes Ruin the Customer Service Experience

The prank was pure genius.

Two boys, each about 12 years old, stood on opposite sides of the road. As a car approached, the boys would pantomime picking up a rope and pulling it taught across the road. 

This caused speeding cars to slow down as the drivers perceived they were about to run into whatever the boys had stretched across the road. They couldn't see anything in front of them, but the boys' actions told the drivers' subconscious brains that some danger lurked ahead.

Of course, there was no rope. The drivers were reacting to their perception, not reality.

Customer service is often the same way. The experience is almost always amplified for good or bad by invisible ropes—things that alter your customer's perception of reality.

This post will help you identify invisible ropes that might annoy your customers and ruin their experience.

Sign asking customer to wait to be called.

Wait Time

Customer service often involves waiting. Waiting in line for help. Waiting in line to make a purchase. Waiting on hold for a customer service representative to answer the phone. 

Long waits tend to make customers very unhappy, but there's an invisible rope here.

A 1996 study by researchers Ziv Carmon and Daniel Kahneman revealed that people overestimate wait times by as much as 36 percent. They discovered several factors in particular that increase our perception of how long we've been waiting:

  • Expectations: The wait time is longer than we expected it to be.

  • Fairness: People are cutting in line.

  • Competition: Another line appears to be moving faster.

  • Movement: The queue is moving slowly.

  • Line Length: We can see a long line.

  • Boredom: Our wait time perception increases when we are bored.

  • Unpredictability: There is no information telling us how much longer it will be.

The easiest fix is to shorten the actual wait., but that's sometimes not possible. So some companies have found a set of techniques to make the wait time feel shorter.

Contact Friction

Customers must often deal with an unnecessary amount of friction to contact a company, even for the most basic of transactions.

A 2015 study from Mattersight found that 66 percent of customers who called a contact center were frustrated before they even started talking to a live person. The amount of phone menu hoops we have to jump through is ridiculous.

I recently tried to sign up for a webinar that looked mildly interesting. The registration field for this free event contained 20 required fields. Suddenly, I was no longer interested.

A certain florist has been sending me several spam emails per day, ever since I made the mistake of ordering flowers through its website. I never signed up (hence, spam), and I've clicked "unsubscribe" on multiple emails. All to no avail.

Perhaps I can send a simple direct message on Twitter? Nope! The "primary" Twitter handle directs customers to the customer service Twitter account. That account still uses outdated techniques, such as requiring customers to email, or follow the account so the customer can san a direct message. 

I won’t be ordering from that company anytime soon. (Side note, if your company uses Twitter, make sure your account is set up to allow customers to send you a direct message without following you, like mine.)

In reality, this extra effort might add an additional minute or two to the interaction. That's really not too much, but it's the perceived waste that really annoys us.

The solution here is simple. Make it as easy as possible for customers to contact your company. If you’re having difficulty getting support to make necessary changes, ask your executives contact your company through the same channels your customers use. That should get their attention.


So many customer service situations can be solved or ruined based on the perceived friendliness of the employee. 

A restaurant meal can become "an amazing experience" or the "worst meal ever," depending on the rapport the server can develop with their guests.

A retail shopper can become "a customer for life" or vow to "never go back," based on the retail associate's ability to listen carefully to the customers' needs.

A cable company can ensure a problem is "quickly solved" or deliver "nightmare customer service" based on the technician's ability to solve a problem and make customers feel okay in the process.

Yet getting employees to be friendly isn't as simple as demanding or expecting it from the people who report to us. They need a work environment where they can actually be happy. They want to feel respected, and support products and services that make them proud.

And when they don't feel great, acting friendly can be incredibly difficult.


You can see an example of the invisible rope prank in this short video. It's a great example of how perception can alter the way we see reality.

Look for invisible ropes in your own organization. A sure sign is when customers complain about something unreasonable or their complaint seems untrue. That's often an indicator that an invisible rope tripped them up somewhere along their customer journey.

Another solution is improving your ability to set clear expectations. You can identify some situations with this short video.

Lessons from The Overlook: Trust, But Verify

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

It's sometimes tempting to dismiss problems when you find an easy explanation.

A few months ago, I received a call from the water department. The water meter reading for The Overlook was unusually high. Even worse, it appeared the meter was running when an employee took the reading.

The news wasn't initially too concerning. I had gotten the same call after the last billing period, only to discover the culprit was an error reading the meter. So perhaps another mistake had happened.

I also wasn't too worried about the meter running. The meter reader had noticed lights were on at The Overlook, and I verified with our property manager that a cleaning crew was onsite prepping the cabin for our next guests.

It seemed like the problem had been solved, but there was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind. What if there really was an issue?

In business, we often rely on others to get things done. It's important to trust our employees, colleagues, vendors, and contractors to do what they say they will do. It's equally important to verify it gets done.

This is the third time the coffee table needed a repair.

This is the third time the coffee table needed a repair.

The Broken Coffee Table

One of the services our property manager provides is inspecting The Overlook before and after guests stay with us.

The pre-arrival inspection is to make sure the cabin has been properly cleaned and everything is in good working condition. The post-departure inspection is intended to look for any potential issues, such as this broken coffee table. The guests had somehow broken the face off of the drawer (how, I have no idea) and did not report it. They simply left the broken piece for someone to find.

This is a trust, but verify system.

Our property manager generally trusts the cabin is fully cleaned and in good condition, but a final inspection just before guests arrive verifies it truly is. Likewise, our property manager generally trusts that guests will share any issues or concerns, but an inspection can sometimes reveal an unreported problem.

A Slow Leak

Let’s go back to our water issue. The water department re-checked the meter reading, just like last month. This time it was correct. We had somehow used four times as much water this billing period as we normally do. 

Two of our toilets had recently been repaired. When I got the call from the water department, I quickly contacted our property manager and asked her to check on the cabin. In particular, I asked her to check out the toilets. Trust, but verify.

It's fortunate she did. One of the toilets had a small leak in the tank that caused it to constantly run, but the leak was so small you could easily miss it. The problem was immediately fixed once it was identified.

Set Up a Verification System

Managers have become so afraid of the dreaded micromanagement that they go too far in the opposite direction. They delegate without any follow-up.

Verifying work isn't micromanagement, it's validation. You can praise people when work is done correctly while having the peace of mind that everything is okay. And when something goes wrong, you have the opportunity to give feedback and help your team make any necessary corrections.

We have an inspection checklist we use each time we visit The Overlook. The cabin is a two hour drive from my home, but I try to go at least once every six weeks. Most of the time, I’m simply verifying our property manager is doing a terrific job maintaining the cabin and my feedback is, “The cabin looks great!”

However, there’s always something to improve or repair, and it’s easy for one person to miss something.

That’s why our checklist covers quite the gamut, from checking for leaks, looking for burned out light bulbs, checking dishes and glasses for damage, and making sure the furniture is in good condition. There are also preventative maintenance items, such as changing the furnace filter and treating the septic tank.

I did an extra inspection of the plumbing system the next time I visited after the toilet leak. The toilet appeared to be in good working condition, but I discovered some other issues. Pipes can freeze during the cold mountain winters, and I found two places where exposed pipes were uninsulated. 

This one was on me. I thought I had insulated all of the exposed piping, but I clearly missed a couple of places. The lesson here is trust, but verify is helpful even with your own work. Having a system in place, even a simple checklist, can help you do that.

How Lyft Drivers Provide Great Service Without Training

Advertising disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

I started using Lyft about 18 months ago.

One thing that immediately surprised me was how consistently positive my rides have been. Drivers are almost unfailingly friendly and courteous. We often have a conversation that makes the ride go faster—something that rarely happened in all my years of riding in taxis.

I wanted to see if my experience was unique, so I posed a question on LinkedIn to ask people about their experience using services like Lyft, Uber, and Grubhub that rely on independent gig workers. Most people felt service quality was good, though somewhat inconsistent from city to city. 

Which leads to a big question. How do companies provide outstanding customer service without giving their service providers any formal training?

I took a closer look at Lyft, since I'm a big fan. What I found was the company shares several key attributes with the customer-focused companies I profiled in The Service Culture Handbook.

Image courtesy of Lyft.

Image courtesy of Lyft.


Every driver has their own story. 

Some are retirees, making extra income to pay for their next trip or just keeping busy for a few hours a day. Others are putting themselves through school. Many use Lyft to supplement what they earn from a full time job.

A driver in Dallas told me about his plans to become a music producer. He was driving for Lyft to make enough money to get his business off the ground. One of his idols was Shark Tank's Daymond John, and we talked about the power of John's entrepreneurial message. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading John's incredible book, The Power of Broke, so I gave it to my driver.

I’ve never started an impromptu book club in a taxi.

The thing that unifies all these drivers is a clear purpose. They share a sense of personal ownership, no matter what their reason for driving. Lyft promotes the vision, Drive toward what matters to you on its website. The website features several video profiles of drivers' stories like this one of Lamont, who wants to travel the world.

A team lead on Lyft's customer support team shared some additional insight on the Lyft culture with me. "I think our secret is that Lyft's platform attracts like-minded people from the get go. Our core values embody the principals of inclusion and celebrate diversity. Our drivers believe in those same core values and, in return, show it through the service they provide to passengers."


There are some unusual features in Lyft's feedback system that help promote great service.

Passengers are asked to rate their driver on a scale of 1-5 stars at the end of each ride. One thing that stands out is the way Lyft defines the scale:

5 stars means the ride was great and met Lyft standards. Anything lower than 5 indicates that you were unhappy with the ride, so we want to know why! Use the comment box in the app after the ride to leave feedback.

These ratings contribute to the driver's overall rating. Consistently low ratings put drivers at risk of deactivation, and Lyft suggests drivers aim for an average of 4.8.

Having a scoreboard gives drivers natural motivation to earn good ratings. The rating is an average of the driver's last 100 rides, so drivers know that each ride can have an impact on their score. Passengers can leave additional feedback, and drivers get a weekly summary of that, too.

Passengers also see a driver's rating when they request a ride are matched with someone through the app. Seeing a high rating (typically 4.7-4.9) naturally primes the customer to expect good service. This is a psychological trick where our expectations are likely to become self-fulfilling. If we think service will be good, we’ll probably think it’s good.

Another unusual feature is drivers also rate passengers. Mutual ratings tend to promote better service perceptions. For example, a study from Boston University on vacation rental ratings discovered that when customers and service providers rate each other, ratings tend to go up. There’s also a practical reason for people to be good Lyft customers—a low passenger on Lyft rating can make it more difficult for you to get matched with a driver when you request a ride.


An excellent product makes customer service so much easier.

The app generally works very well. I've used it to get rides from airports, hotels, office buildings, and restaurants. Wait times are typically minimal, the prices are very reasonable, and the automatic payment process is easy.

The few times I've had a small issue, such as the driver arriving at the wrong pick-up location, the driver was almost always knowledgeable enough about the app to make suggestions to improve my experience.

One time, I was charged a no-show fee even though I was standing in the correct location and the driver never appeared. A quick message to customer service cleared that up immediately.

In fact, I've found Lyft's customer service team to be very helpful and empowered the few times I've needed them for something. While it's best to avoid problems, having the support you need one something goes wrong can be the difference between an angry or a loyal customer.


There's a lesson here for internal teams.

Customer service leaders tend to over value the importance of training. As a training professional, I'd like nothing better than for training to solve every problem. But the reality is there's more to great service.

Lyft delivers consistently great service with a strong culture, consistent feedback, and a good product.

Why You Need to Analyze Survey Comments

I'm putting the finishing touches on the second edition of my book, Getting Service Right. The book was originally called Service Failure, and I've now updated both the title and some of the research.

The cover is one of the most important sales tools for a book, so I worked with Anne Likes Red to come up with a few designs. I then launched a survey to ask readers for their feedback on three cover options. The survey was up for just a few days and a 135 people responded.

Here were the results:

Option A (28%)


Option B (52%)

Option C (20%)

Picking cover option B should be a no-brainer, right? After all, more than half of all survey respondents picked that option.

Without qualitative information, I might have made that mistake. Fortunately, I also included a comment field in the survey. When you analyze the comments to learn why someone chose a particular option, a new pattern emerges.

Searching for Themes

I recently hosted a webinar with Alyona Medelyan, CEO of the customer insight firm Thematic. Medelyan brought actual client data to reveal some interesting insights that a survey score alone wouldn’t show:

  • A cable company found customers with modem issues were impacting overall NPS by -2 points.

  • Another company discovered one variable that caused customers to spend $140 more per year.

  • An airline learned passengers were 4x angrier about missed connections than delayed flights.

The point Medelyan made is we usually get deeper, more actionable insights when we analyze the comments and not just the scores. So I applied this concept to my book cover survey and found two significant themes contained in the comments.

The first was quite a few people chose B because they liked the subtitle below the title better than the way it was shown in option A and C. So it wasn't just the color that's drove people to option B.

The second theme was quite a few people who selected option B mentioned they liked the title arrangement of option B, but preferred the color of option A. There were even a handful who picked B but mentioned they liked the color on option C best.

Suddenly option B isn't such a clear and convincing winner. Here's what happened when I revised the survey results to account for color choice alone:

Option A (40%)

Option B (39%)

Option C (21%)

Now I have two insights:

  • People prefer the blue cover shown option A

  • People like the title arrangement in option B

Keep in mind I only made adjustments where respondents were explicit in their survey comments. If someone didn't explain why they chose B, they may have done it for the title arrangement, the color, or pure whimsy.

Making a Final Decision

I did a similar survey with my last two book covers, and both times I ended up choosing elements from different options. I did the same thing this time.

Going with option B's title arrangement was a pretty easy decision. There were numerous comments describing option B as the preference without any support for the layout of options A and C.

I ultimately chose the blue color from option A. 

Several survey comments mentioned color theory, and my friend Jim even shared this helpful resource from Quick Sprout. According to the guide, the color blue symbolizes tranquilty and peace and has more positive associations across various cultures than purple and green.

The kicker is the blue is my personal preference. I really like it, and it's important for an author to really like the cover of their book! Here's the final cover:

It was also important to consider how the cover will look when shown together with my other books on Amazon, in a bookstore, or at a trade show. Here's how it will look displayed next to my other books:

Take Action

You can gain so much more from a survey if you combine the fixed choices (ex: option A, B, or C) with comments. Try analyzing one of your own surveys to see what hidden insight is revealed.

You’ll find a lot of simple analysis techniques in the webinar with Alyona Medelyan from Thematic.

You can also get more help with your survey on this survey resource page.

The Police Interrogation Technique That Calms Angry Customers

You've probably seen the good cop, bad cop technique in the movies.

A suspect is interrogated by two cops. The first one, the bad cop, does their best to intimidate the suspect. They yell, threaten, and generally act like a jerk. Then the good cop intervenes and appears to defend the suspect. The good cop acts like they're on the suspect's side, and suddenly the suspect spills the beans. 

It's a neat trick that can actually work. And there's research that shows us how to use this technique when serving an angry customer.

With a little modification, of course.

Police officer interrogating a suspect.

Startled Into Compliance

Imagine you were approached by a student in a crowded market who asked you to spend five minutes to fill out a questionnaire for a school project. Would you help them?

I did this multiple times myself for projects in college, and it can be tough work. Researchers in Poland conducted an experiment where just 30 percent of people agreed to assist the student. 

But they increased that number to 56 percent with a second group of participants by adding a new element.

Immediately before encountering the student, participants in the second group were grabbed by the shoulder as they walked through the doorway. The startled people would turn around and see someone wearing dark glasses and carrying a white cane, giving the impression the person who grabbed them was blind. The blind person simply said, "Excuse me." Once the subject realized being grabbed was a mistake, they would turn around and keep walking, where the student would then approach them a few steps later.

Why did this nearly double the amount of people who complied with the student's request?

Psychologists have found that a rapid seesawing of emotions from an extreme negative  to sudden relief makes people more compliant. In the crowded market experiment, the fear of being grabbed by an unseen person quickly turns into relief when the subject sees someone they think is a blind person.

In police interrogations, the good cop, bad cop technique relies on the same mechanism. The bad cop incites extreme negative emotions and then the good cop brings sudden relief by intervening and seemingly getting the bad cop to back off.

Using the Technique in Customer Service

There's an obvious modification here. I'm in no way suggesting that you partner with a colleague and one of you berates the angry customer before the other steps in to smooth things over.

The modification is using this technique when a customer is already riled up at you. Whether or not you like it, you're the "bad cop" in the eyes of a customer who is really angry and perceives that you're part of the problem.

So all you need to do now is introduce someone else to take over and bring relief.

It could be a supervisor, but you could also turn to a colleague. What matters is the new person should appear empathetic to the customer and try to make the customer feel they're on their side. 

In my experience, this often brings a sense of relief that immediately helps the customer calm down.

Make no mistake, this is an advanced technique. For many of us, the natural instinct is to avoid transferring an angry customer to a colleague or supervisor. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • It's a matter of pride, and can feel like failure.

  • A supervisor or colleague may get agitated with us for transferring the customer.

  • A supervisor may not be available and a colleague may not seem sufficient.

The key here is being able to swallow your pride and politely offer to connect the customer with someone who is "better able to assist them." Only you and your coworker will know what you're really doing.

Take Action

I've seen this technique work many times as a frontline employee, as a supervisor, and as a customer waiting in line observing another interaction. More often than not, the customer mysteriously calms down as soon as a new person takes up the interaction.

My advice to you is to try your own experiment. The next time you realize a customer has designated you as the "bad cop," try bringing in a colleague or supervisor to take over the interaction and bring some relief.

Check out my new book, Getting Service Right, for even more solutions to counterintuitive and unusual customer service challenges.

Why Two Stars is the Worst Rating

It's never fun to receive a one-star review.

No business leader likes to see an angry customer posting in public. That one-star review can harm your company's reputation and might discourage new customers. But the reviews you should be really concerned about are the two-stars.

In this short post, I'll attempt to explain why.

Customer giving two stars on a rating scale.

Let's start with something a bit counterintuitive: a few negative reviews can help your business

Research conducted in 2015 by PowerReviews and Northwestern University found that consumers are most likely to buy from a business with a 4.2-4.5 average star rating. That's because a business with a few negative reviews seems more authentic, and over 80 percent of customers specifically seek out negative reviews. 

(More: How to Respond to Negative Yelp Reviews)

So what's the difference between a one and a two-star review? Let's look at recent reviews from a popular restaurant in San Diego. As of this writing, it has 2,503 reviews and a four-star overall rating.

Restaurant with four-star Yelp rating.

Here's a one-star review of this restaurant from Travis M:

One-star Yelp rating.

People often write one-star reviews like this as a way to express anger at a service experience, rather than a true review of the business. When you break it down a bit, you'll notice a few things that detract from the review's credibility.

  • The customer didn't actually dine at the restaurant.

  • This is the only Yelp review written by this user.

  • The nearest Jack In The Box is over a mile away, and is not a comparable alternative.

The reviewer also wrote that getting seated immediately is rare, which indicates some repeat business. If this restaurant was legitimately a one-star experience, why would you keep coming back? Chances are, this customer was really upset about their experience and wanted to punish the business. 

Now let's look at a two-star review from Kat C written just four days earlier:

Two star restaurant review.

This review is much more credible than the previous review, for a few reasons:

  • Specific details are given, giving a sense the review is accurate.

  • Some positives are mentioned, such as the taste of the Kobe burger.

  • The reviewer has 91 Yelp reviews.

Unlike the one-star review, this one is a bit more measured. The gist is the service is very slow and the food is hit or miss. And the two-stars make the review feel like the customer was trying to be fair.

Side note: The damning part is the three-star review immediately before this one and the five-star review immediately after it both mention slow service. And despite a four-star average, when you filter for just recent reviews the restaurant's rating dips to about 3.8.

You don't have to take my word for it. Try reading one and two-star reviews of businesses in your area. See which ones tend to be more credible and let me know what you come up with.

Bonus Resource

You can learn more about serving customers via social media from my LinkedIn Learning training video. You’ll need a LinkedIn Learning or subscription to view the entire course, but you can get a free 30-day trial here.

The Most Important Review Site for Small Businesses

Love them or hate them, online review sites are an important part of small business.

Customers use sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and others to search for businesses like yours, read customer reviews, and even leave feedback. In fact, a 2018 study from BrightLocal found that 86 percent of US consumers use online reviews to help find local businesses.

The challenge is there are so many review sites that it's hard to know where to start. And you have a small business to run, which means you don't have a lot of time to mess around.

Fortunately, I've done the research and found which one site customers rely on the most. Here are the results along with how you can easily take advantage of these insights.

Website with customer ratings.

The Most Popular Review Site

I surveyed 1,004 adults in the United States in January 2019 to ask which online review site they rely upon the most. Google is by far the most popular.

Graphic showing the most popular online review sites. Google has 60% of the market.

There are two caveats to be aware of.

The first caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be overinflated. I used Google Surveys to do this study. It gives you a fairly random demographic sample, but in this case it also increases the likelihood that respondents would prefer Google, since they found my survey on Google. That's a huge grain of sand to keep in mind as you look at the data.

Just to check the results, I conducted an informal survey within my own network. And guess what? Google was still tops, followed by Yelp and then Facebook.

The second caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be underinflated. Think about how you naturally search for a business. I recently went to a used furniture store to look for a new table for The Overlook. When I got there, the store was unexpectedly closed so I needed to find somewhere else to go.

Instinctively, I opened the web browser on my smartphone and Googled "used furniture store." Google instantly gave me a list of stores near my location along with their ratings.

According to HubSpot, Google owns 70 percent of search engine traffic. That number jumps to 85 percent for searches on mobile devices. In other words, Google is how customers search for reviews when they don’t realize they’re searching for reviews. 

What Can You Do About It?

The first thing you should do is claim your free business listing on all the major platforms your customers use to look for you. While Google is the most popular, the other sites get their fair share of traffic, too. Womply has published some helpful guides.

Make sure you respond to every review a customer leaves you. Keep in mind your response isn’t just to the reviewer; it’s a signal to other potential customers that you care about service. BrightLocal's data reveals that 89 percent of customers read business's responses to reviews. 

Now here's where focusing on Google can pay off. Remember how I quickly found a highly-rated used furniture store by searching on my smartphone? 

Google uses reviews to help prioritize which businesses it shows when potential customers search for businesses like yours. So you can improve your search rankings without hiring an internet wizard. All you have to do is work on getting a lot of good reviews for your business. And here's the kicker—unlike Yelp, Google is perfectly okay with you encouraging customers to write reviews!

The company even provides this helpful guide.

More Resources

Here are a few additional resources to help you drive more customers to your business with online reviews.

You may also benefit from my LinkedIn Learning course, Serving Customers Using Social Media.

Things We Could Use More of in 2019

The original title of this post was, "Things I Can Do Without in 2019." 

It was intended to be a mini-revolt against all the customer service predictions we're inevitably seeing right now. Number one on my list was going to be "predictions." 

The list immediately struck a negative, "get off my lawn!" tone. Number three on my list of things I don't want was "negativity," and I quickly realized the irony. So I scrapped the list in favor of something more positive.

It's easy to point out what I don't want, don't like, and generally could do without. 

What about what I want? Surely, there are some things in the world of customer service that we could use more of. Here are three things that come to mind.

Notepad with “New Year, fresh start!” written on it.


A lot of people worry about the customer service apocalypse, where we're all replaced by robots and AI. Automation has its place, but human-powered service is still vitally important.

My local bank branch just remodeled its lobby to add in more ATM machines and reduce the number of tellers. A friendly ambassador now greets you as you walk in and encourages you to try the machine. 

Yet when I experienced a problem with the ATM machine immediately outside the bank, the ambassador was unable to assist me. She insisted I had to call customer service (isn't that who she was?) because the branch didn't service the ATM outside, only the ones in the lobby.

In a world of automation, there will always be a role for humans who add human value to the service experience.

That's why I like going to my local True Value hardware store over the big box retailer down the street. The store is overstaffed by conventional retail standards where you usually have to wander the aisles looking for help. At True Value, there's always someone there to quickly help me find the right items for my project. The associate will walk me all over the store until I find everything I need, and give me helpful advice if I have any questions.

What can you do to add humanity to your service in 2019?


For years, I relied on an oft-quoted stat:

  • 55 percent of communication comes from body language

  • 38 percent of communication comes from tone

  • 7 percent of communication comes from words

A mentor shared it with me so I believed it was true. I shared this statistic in my training classes and even came up with exercises to demonstrate the importance of using the right body language and tone.

One day, while doing research for a book, I decided to investigate the source of this data. It turns out this claim was completely untrue! To borrow from the late Paul Harvey, the rest of the story was even more interesting.

Let's infuse our day with a bit more curiosity. What we might learn about service could be amazing!


I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "We're going to work on our service culture this year."

The executives making this statement may have the best intentions, but adding "this year" to the end already signals the temporary nature of the initiative. Service culture, should not be a flavor-of-the-month exercise.

Inevitably, the initial enthusiasm of these initiatives devolves into a check-the-box program where someone hangs up a banner, holds a meeting, declares victory, and then moves on without anything really changing. Without commitment, enthusiasm is worthless.

There's a chance you've set some pretty big customer service goals for 2019. 

One way to keep your commitment is to make those goals a part of doing business rather than a separate project. For example, if you have a customer satisfaction goal, can you identify how that goal will impact other business drivers such as revenue, cost reduction, and customer retention?

I set a goal to publish a revised second edition of my first book by April 2. 

Publishing that book is not the finish line. I make a living writing and speaking about customer service. So I've set a revenue target for the book. And I'm already using the book to land more speaking engagements. This pushes the book beyond a fun side project and makes it an essential part of my success.

How can you turn your enthusiasm for the new year into a true commitment?

Take Action

I try to do something with everything I read. I hope you do as well. Here are a few ideas:

  • Find a way to demonstrate unexpected human kindness today.

  • Use curiosity to guide you to learn something new and useful.

  • Take one step towards your goals.

Incidentally, my book is called Getting Service Right. It explores hidden and counterintuitive obstacles to outstanding customer service. You can download a free chapter from the book's website.

The Surprising Reasons Why Video is Better Than Hiring a Trainer

I typically have a lot of conversations with customer service leaders this time of year who want to hire me to conduct training for their team. I almost always try to talk them out of it.

Yes, I realize I'm talking myself out of paying clients. But my goal in these conversations is to be helpful. The surprising truth is video is usually much more effective than hiring an external consultant for frontline customer service training. 

This blog posts lays out the reasons why video can be better.

Why should you believe me?

  • I've spent more than 25 years as a customer service trainer.

  • I'm a Certified Professional in Learning & Performance (CPLP).

  • I'm a past president of the Association for Talent Development’s San Diego chapter.

Two important caveats here:

One: In the interest of full disclosure, I have 18 training videos in the LinkedIn Learning library. I started working with LinkedIn Learning in 2013 when I realized the power of video.

Two: The focus here is on customer service training. I'm in no way suggesting that video is the best way to learn any skill.

Person watching a training video on a smartphone.

Video Costs Less

Let's start with the easy one. Using training videos can run as little as 10 percent of the total cost of hiring an external trainer.

Keep in mind the trainer's fee is just one of the expenses you'll pay:

  • Trainer's fee

  • Licensing and printing fees for materials

  • Labor cost of employees attending training

  • Labor cost of employees who provide coverage during training

  • Facilities cost

  • Catering cost

Here's a simplified cost comparison I worked up for this blog post.

Cost comparison of live training vs video.

Notice employees are spending far less time in training with the video example. My training videos typically take 50-75 percent less time to complete than a live class.

This is a key part of the cost/benefit equation, and it also leads us to the second area where video is superior.

Video is More Flexible

Hiring an external trainer can be a logistical challenge.

First, there's getting a date on the calendar. My next available date is three months from now. Internally, you likely have busy and slow periods to contend with along with employee vacations and other initiatives competing for time.

The day of training is also complicated. Most businesses don't have the luxury of shutting down their operation to send everyone to training. A typical solution is to divide the team into two or more classes, and then run extra shifts and even overtime to maintain coverage while some people attend the workshop.

But your troubles don't end there. What do you do if someone calls in sick that day? Or what happens when you hire two new employees next month? Those people missed the class entirely.

My training videos are on demand, which means each individual can watch them when convenient. You could assign a few videos to everyone on the team, give them a week to watch them, and have each person watch just a few minutes at a time.

This minimizes the disruption to your operation. And it allows new hires to attend the same training as the rest of the team. Watching the video on demand also has an incredibly important learning benefit. which we’ll get to next.

Video is More Effective

By now, most leaders tell me, "Ok, I understand that video costs less and is more convenient, but I'm willing to spend the money to get the best results."

The surprising response to that is video is still the way to go! Here's a simple exercise to help you understand the problem with a full or half-day live training class.

  1. Think about the last customer service seminar or conference you attended.

  2. Try to recall about how much material was covered during that time. 

  3. Now identify how much material you actually implemented. 

The answer for most people is depressingly low. 

That's because we're typically bombarded with too much information during a live workshop. We learn best when we receive new information in small chunks and have a chance to implement that information repeatedly over time.

This is where video really shines!

All of my video courses are split into short segments that are 3-5 minutes long. The intent is to watch just one or two segments, identify the specific skills they cover, and then go back to work and implement those skills.

For example, in this training plan for learning to serve upset customers, participants start by watching just two videos that total less than 10 minutes. The videos focus on understanding why customers get upset, and how a customer's anger can influence our instinctive fight or flight response.

Participants are then asked to go back to work and spend time implementing what they learned from these short videos. After a few days of practice, people will greatly improve their skills, and they can go back and watch the next video.

This leads to another benefit. Video gives you an opportunity to review content as needed. So if you had a particularly challenging customer, but can't remember that de-escalation technique you learned a few months ago, you can go back and re-watch the video to refresh your skills.


You don't have to believe me. I encourage you to run your own experiment and see how video can improve customer service training. 

Here are some resources that will allow you to try this at little to no cost:

First, you'll need access to either LinkedIn Learning or You can get a free 30-day trial account if you don't already have a subscription. 

Next, pick a topic from the enormous library. I've already laid out a training plan for using the Working with Upset Customers course, but there are many courses to choose from.

Finally, send your team through the training and see what type of results you get. You can use this primer to learn how to use the videos effectively. 

As always, you can contact me for assistance. I’m happy to have a conversation and walk you through it.

Lessons From The Overlook: Customer Service vs Customer Experience

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

We recently had some upset guests at The Overlook. This story helps differentiate between customer service and customer experience, and highlights why you need to understand both.

Our guests had originally booked a different cabin with our property management company. That cabin suddenly became unavailable, so our property manager re-accommodated the guests with us.

They were clearly unhappy with the move. When people get upset, research shows they can become more judgmental and less open to ideas. In this case, the guests sent our property manager a slew of nit-picky complaints about The Overlook: there wasn't enough counter space in the bathrooms, there's only one television, etc. 

One complaint really caught our attention. The guests claimed our cabin had just three bedrooms, not four.

We disagree with their count, but serving customers is a perception game. Here's how customer service and customer experience both played a role in this situation.

The “controversial” fourth bedroom. Photo credit:  Idyllwild Vacation Cabins

The “controversial” fourth bedroom. Photo credit: Idyllwild Vacation Cabins


Let's start with defining the terms customer service and customer experience. 

The two get mixed up a lot. There's a trend where customer service teams are renaming themselves the Customer Experience Team, but they're doing the same thing they were before. But customer experience is really much broader.

So what's the difference? Here's a simple, concise definition of customer service from the Oxford English Dictionary:

The assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.

Customer experience is much broader. Here's a definition I really like from Annette Franz:

The sum of all the interactions that a customer has with an organization over the life of the “relationship” with that company… and, especially, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions the customer has about those interactions.

Graphic depicting customer service as a subset of customer experience.

Customer experience encompasses customer service. It also includes product design, product quality, advertising, and many other factors not traditionally considered to be part of customer service.

Service or Experience?

Our guests' complaint about the cabin really having just three bedrooms helps differentiate between customer service and customer experience.

Advertising is part of the customer experience, since it helps set expectations for what a customer will get from your product or service. The Overlook is advertised as a four bedroom cabin:

  • There are two bedrooms with queen beds on the main floor.

  • There's an en suite master bedroom with a king bed downstairs.

  • The fourth bedroom is upstairs from the main floor.

The fourth bedroom has a king-sized bed, a closet, two windows, and its own bathroom. Our guests complained that it wasn't really a bedroom because it doesn't have a door. 

The customer service aspect was our property manager listening to the complaint with an empathetic ear and trying to rectify the situation in some way. Adding a door wasn't a feasible solution during the guests' stay, so they were ultimately offered a discount as compensation for their numerous complaints.

Now let's look at the customer experience aspects that go beyond customer service.

  • The bedroom's lack of a door

  • The bedroom’s lack of a television

  • The way the guests used the bedroom

Our guests' party included young children, and their perception was the kids sleeping in the upstairs room were too loud for the adults because the room didn't have a door. They also complained that the bedroom lacked a television, so what our guests were really looking for was a place for the kids to entertain themselves while not disturbing the rest of the house.

Improving the Guest Experience

It's easy to write-off these complaints. The same guests complained the cabin was dirty because the kids’ white socks had dirt on them after the kids were running around outside in their socks.

Yet there's often a kernel of truth in nearly every complaint.

Their biggest issue was they weren't staying in the cabin they originally wanted. The Overlook was clearly not a great fit for these guests who probably would have been happier in a cabin with a separate TV room where they could stash the kids. Our property manager might steer a similar family to a different cabin the next time guests need to be re-accommodated.

The upstairs bedroom is private and you can't see into it from the main floor, but some guests might still expect anything labeled a bedroom to have a door. So we've updated our advertising to explain that one of the bedrooms is a loft with its own bathroom.

There's a word of caution here, too. 

You could spend a lot of money if you tried to give every guest exactly what they wanted. For example, we could put televisions in every room and add a door to the upstairs bedroom based on the feedback from just one unhappy group of guests. But that would be costly and it wouldn't dramatically improve the experience for our ideal guests who are coming up to the mountains to enjoy the outdoors and the peaceful serenity.

We look at feedback in the context of our customer service vision: Welcome to your mountain retreat. So when some guests shared that they wished there were extra towels since they went hiking during the day and then used the hot tub at night, we saw this as an opportunity to enhance the experience in alignment with our vision. In this case, the cost of the extra towels was a worthwhile investment.

Take Action

Our property manager handled the situation well. The guests were placated in the end, though they probably won't be returning to The Overlook since it’s not a great match with their needs.

We met with our property manager afterwards to discuss the guest experience improvements outlined above. One of the many reasons we like working with Idyllwild Vacation Cabins is the owner, Martha, always looks for a way to improve her guests’ experience.

You can take action in your own business by understanding the difference between customer service and customer experience. Service is important, but you need other elements such as a good product, fair policies, and helpful advertising to create the best experience.