Accountability starts at the top. Associates will model actions they observe of their leaders. So what happens when leadership teaches the wrong lessons? I recently had a friend, a former customer service representative, share her experiences working in customer service for an online retail company. Here is one of her stories:

Confessions of a Bad Customer Service Representative

For a year and a half, I worked as one of the faceless social media brand ambassadors of an online company. We sold food products; that was our specialty. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of potential for issues to arise in the purchase of online edible goods (e.g. expired product, false representation of the item, incorrectly filled orders), so we fielded many a customer complaint each day. But our CEO wasn’t much of a “people person,” to put it lightly. His policy was to make it known that we dealt in food, not humans. Customers were nothing more than a commodity. The way he saw it, there was no harm done if we lost the support of a few dozen shoppers a week — there are over 300 million people in America, after all! He didn’t seem to understand the fact that no matter the business, keeping customers happy is vital to success; building a brand loyalty that people are proud to support and tell their friends about is more than just a goal, it’s a necessity in today’s business environment.

Delete and Repeat

I ran our social media accounts and was in charge of fielding comments, queries, and complaints via Twitter and Facebook. My explicit instruction — I kid you not — was to delete any comments that reflected us in a negative light. You read that correctly: delete. Rather than calling up the irked customer to see what we could do to ameliorate their experience; rather than sending a message to allow them to expand upon their frustrations; we merely swept them under the carpet like the expired goods they were probably contacting us to talk about in the first place.

It got to the point where there were so many negative reviews on our website that we were losing measurable amounts of customers a day. We started to receive messages along the lines of, “I really wanted some chocolate, but the reviews on your site are abhorrent. I think I’ll order somewhere else.” Non-customers were literally going out of their way to let us know that they had no interest in sampling our business, merely because they had read poor reviews of our customer service! Of course, rather than learning from this wholly preventable dip in sales and trying to better our humanistic approach, we resolved the problem in a, shall we say, “creative” way… by altogether removing the “reviews” section of our site. Now people had no outlet to complain; it was a short-term (and short-sighted) solution for a very humbling issue.

Great Customer Service…a Necessity, not a Luxury

In one characteristic occurrence near the end of my tenure in this establishment, I had contacted the CEO to ask him how to respond to a disgruntled woman who had received the wrong order. He told me to let her know we had passed her complaints on to the correct department. I asked him if we really had a department for this sort of error, and he emailed me back simply, “Of course not. Muahaha.”

The lesson here: there is a better solution to this sort of problem than maniacal laughter, and it’s starting from the base and working up. A great customer experience should be more than a luxury, it should be a necessity. Whether you work in health care, retail, or edible goods, creating a positive human experience will ensure the longevity of any organization.