The Sorry State of Customer Service in America

And why that’s good news for you.

Since my return from the Global Golf Marketing Conference in Seoul Korea last week, I have been keenly tuned in to the pathetic customer service we deliver in America. I have no scientific data or statistics to back this up. The following is my opinion (or rant), but stick with me (or skip to the bottom of this post) because this situation is a golden opportunity for your business.


I developed a warm spot in my heart for Korea during my five days in Seoul. Koreans are respectful, helpful, polite and sharply focused on customer service. While there, my wife and I did plenty of shopping and sight-seeing and never once encountered bad, nor even indifferent, customer service. Almost every store we entered greeted us when we walked in the door. Employees smiled, were helpful, eager to please us. Now back to America for some contrast.

When we landed in Dallas after an 11 hour flight from Tokyo, and I wanted some coffee. I was expecting the same type of customer service I received at Starbucks in Seoul (they are everywhere in Seoul too). The lone employee on duty at the Starbucks in DFW Terminal B was having a personal conversation on the store phone. Two people were in line. After she leisurely finished her conversation, she took one person’s order, then begin to make his drink, leaving me and the other customer in line waiting, not even acknowledging us. I left without ordering. You’re not in Seoul anymore, Dorothy.

Exhibits #2 & #3

My DFW Starbucks experience raised my customer service antennae and I began to make mental notes of all my customer service experiences. This past Monday, driving from Waco to Houston, I stopped at the Tiger Mart on I-45 in Buffalo, Texas. While gassing up, I went inside to buy something to drink. The clerk, who had not acknowledged my presence, mechanically began to ring up my purchase, and the cash register had a unique, musical ring. I commented to the clerk about it. No response, she didn’t even look at me. She then handed me my change, without ever once looking at me or saying one word to me, and turned to her co-worker to start a personal conversation. Note to self: This customer service experience sucked.

Mobile phones are every where in America, and Americans seem to be glued to them. I expect the next generation to have a spine condition where their neck is tilted 45° forward. Koreans also love their mobile devices. Like Americans, they use them talk, text and play games, even watch TV. South Korea actually ranks second in the world in information communication technology.

So this past Tuesday morning I was speaking at a conference at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott and needed to leave my bags at the front bell desk for the morning. The bell desk was not being manned by a bellman, so I began searching for one. I found him in the entry way, sitting on a counter, peering into his mobile phone. Here’s the contrast: Not one time in Korea did I see anyone on the job using their mobile phone.

Here’s The Opportunity

Now who’s to blame for the sorry state of customer service in America? It would be easy to blame a self-engrossed, apathetic youth filling the employment rolls. But not so fast. Really it’s the business owners and companies that allow these employees to deliver crummy customer service. It’s the business ownership and management that sends the message: “the customer is not important enough for us to give good service.” Why else would employees treat customers with such disregard? It’s your fault. That’s the bad news. But it’s also the good news.

Great customer service stories are rare. So rare, that when they happen, the company that delivers get lots of publicity. If you need proof, just look at the publicity for Zappo’s customer service. So here’s your opportunity to truly break from the pack of businesses competing in a commodity economy. If you were to implement a customer service culture in your business, even if you just made marginal improvements, you would immediately differentiate yourself from the competition. Word of mouth would ensue.

The customer service arena is empty, but customers are sitting in the stands waiting for businesses to come on stage. Do you want to stand out from the crowd? Do you want to gain a competitive advantage? It’s yours for the taking for the price of a little bit of service.

Related Reading: Changing Customer Service That Sucks
To design a remarkable customer experience see: Customer Experience Map
Watch my free recorded, Customer Experience Webinar

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