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Blog: Can Poor Customer Service Unintentionally Destroy Credibility?

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It was the hottest week of the summer so far and the air conditioner in my condo stopped working. Hot and moody, I called in a repair request to my leasing agent. A day passed, and not hearing from them I decided to call again. Not only was the heat rising, so was my impatience. The receptionist for the leasing agent apologized and reassured me that a ticket would be placed for first thing the next morning. ‘First thing’ came and went, the temperature rose, and by now my impatience was growing to anger and frustration. I started to mistrust this company with whom I was doing business. I felt like I couldn’t rely on them to be true to their word, or to contact me if they would be unable to fulfil a request.

Finally on the third day, just as I was calling to check on my repair request, my doorbell rang. I was thrilled to see the repair man! Suddenly the frustration and anger were replaced with the calm certainty that my problem would be resolved and that the air in my condo would cool—literally and figuratively!

While the repairman was greeting me and I told him how happy I was to finally see someone, we were interrupted with a phone call from his supervisor. Without excusing himself to take the call in another room (or outside, or in his vehicle) he took the call in front of me. The call was about my ticket! He not only made excuses for being late, he began trash-talking the receptionist in the leasing office, laying blame at her feet.

I was shocked! I had been so happy to see that my problem would be solved. All mistrust had been resolved upon the arrival of the repairman—until he opened his mouth! His conversation in my presence painted a picture of a company that was not only unorganized in the way they conducted repair tickets, the representative of the company (the repairman) was sabotaging their credibility and left me feeling as if the entire operation were unprofessional.

The truth is, this entire encounter was not a huge deal in the scheme of things. My request was honored and my air conditioner was repaired. No one was placed in harm’s way, no one’s life was threatened. BUT from a customer-service stand point, this could have been an enormous problem for the leasing company. One person’s personal work frustrations and lack of team-spirit in the presence of a customer could literally have destroyed a company from the inside-out.

Had that same service provider given a simple apology for the repair taking so long (no excuses) and taken a personal call in another room (or outside, or in his vehicle) my perception of the company would have been totally different. I was so happy to see someone that I was willing to forgive a delay. In fact, there was even a moment when I felt guilty for impatiently calling so many times when they were clearly very busy.



Instances like this can happen in a company any time. Not only with external customers, but internally as well. It’s a leader’s responsibility to do a ‘reality check’ on employee’s interaction with customers and other team members. What you don’t know may be destroying your credibility. There is a line between being personable and being over-personal. People become busy, distracted, and overwhelmed and forget that they are representing their team, their company, or themselves every time they open their mouths. We forget that external customers don’t see the day-to-day goings on. They only see or hear what we demonstrate to them. And they DON’T want to hear about the problems that we deal with. They want to know that we can solve their problem or complaint.

Below are 5 steps to lead your team to outstanding customer service:

  1. Handle employee complaints in an appropriate place/time. Face-to-face when an employee is not feeling rushed to complete a task or could be with a customer and when they won’t feel blindsided.
  2. Train employees to keep conversations of an internal nature private from customers. Personal conversations, second-hand conversations, and other work related conversations should be handled in the appropriate time/place.
  3. Empower employees with positive language that reflects well on the company in the face of customer complaints or situations where they feel uncomfortable: acknowledge the complaint, allow the customer to feel heard and understood, and then move to a positive resolution.
  4. Keep employee engagement high by allowing employees to understand how they impact the company on a personal level and how their attitude and behavior reflects on the success of the company on a whole.
  5. Allow employees to feel supported and comfortable bringing their issues to a trusted supervisor rather than feeling the need to gossip, complain, or trash-talk in front of other employees or customers.

It may seem unfair that one or two people can so greatly affect how people view an organization and its credibility, but it is true. Your credibility is only as strong as your weakest link.

What do you think? What would you add to the list above? Do you think it is important for leaders to focus on customer service even if their division is not specifically "customer service"?

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles.

MSBCoach is committed to partnering with leaders and teams to identify their True North.  One's true north includes living into your values, identifying what it means to you to be your authentic self, and practicing emotional intelligence.  Leadership, executive, and team coaching are effective ways to help leaders and their teams put these principles into practice.  We also offer engaging workshops in being an authentic leader, emotional intelligence, identifying your values, and many others.  You can check out our coaching processes and our list of workshops here.


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