… if your customer service is poor.

A design and marketing campaign is only as strong as its weakest link. A common weak link can be poor customer service. Too often the bitter taste of bad service lasts far longer than a sweet deal.

I was in a bottle shop on the weekend, looking for something different to drink with dinner. I’d gone to a different outlet than usual as they had a promotion insert in the bundle of junk mail that we get each week. I intended to get one of the deals they had on if I couldn’t find something interesting for myself. Scanning the isles for a red blend, maybe French, thank you Red Obsession for planting the idea in my subconscious, I couldn’t help but pick up the wines that had interesting labels.

Consider this. 99% of all wine is consumed within 24 hours of purchase.

The battle is getting the bottle in the hand of the consumer. This relies on design and marketing to raise its awareness and stand out on the shelf. Yet, if the wine is unsatisfying then we probably won’t buy it again [no repeat sale] and we all know that repeat sales [brand loyalty] is where the money is. If we ask for some help and the customer service is poor, then we may go elsewhere, unless the offering is so unique that there is no alternative that satisfies.

I decided to ask for some advice on a good light red style in my price range, and had to interrupt a young assistant who clearly was more interested in lining up the cases of beer on the floor than talking to a stranger. Perhaps it was nearly the end of his shift. Needless to say I got no love. He knew nothing about French wine and there was nobody available that could help. I ended up buying three budget French reds that looked appealing and headed home. Surely, at least one of the three wines that I knew nothing about would have hit the spot.

The outcome. A marketing promotion that drew me to a different store than the one I normally buy from; a poor customer service experience that resulted in a buying decision blindly based on visual appeal–graphic design. Yes, I could have just bought something I was familiar with but I was looking for something new–a surprise–and took a gamble.

The takeaway here is that a campaign/effort/opportunity is only as strong as its weakest link. A big brand liquor store created the environment for a sale by using marketing and an offer to get me into their store. They had a huge range of product and generally well priced. The weak link was the customer service. Yes, I still bought from them and the wines were fine, but the bitter taste of bad service lasts far longer than a sweet deal.

We’ve all experienced bad customer service in one form or another.

  • No updates from the supplier,
  • No call to ask you how the item suited,
  • No thank you for your business,
  • No hi and by in the emails or phone calls,
  • Great food but arrogant waiter,
  • Felt like you were interrupting their day.

It’s not that hard!

1 in 10 people will mention good service but 7 in 10 will gladly talk about bad service and this is what kills business–quickly. Hello Facebook. The almighty ‘complaints’ water cooler.

Next time you are on the receiving end of some less than swimmingly delivered customer service I challenge you to let them know–constructively. The same applies to fantastic customer service–something that has exceeded your level of expectation. We’d all would love to know about that, too. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, as Brian Tracy says. I love to give great, simple feedback to the kitchen when ever I get a great meal. And I love to receive the same for my team when we do a great job.

However, you can’t lead with great customer service, for long, as it’s not a sustainable point of difference. I travelled to the US recently and was blown away by the great customer service. Admittedly, wages in hospitality are less and tips are a great motivator for being courteous and well-serving, and it works. What can we learn from this competitive market which is 10 times larger than our own, here in this isolated economy where way too many businesses, and their owners, get away with absolutely terrible customer service.

By and large, customer service here is on the improve, slowly, thanks to the world getting smaller and a tougher economy forcing us to try harder. Also, franchises and multinationals are bringing better practices with them as part of their culture. However, it doesn’t replace the product, it only makes it easier to sell it the first few times–as i just experienced at the bottle shop. Similarly, the best design and marketing campaign won’t perform miracles, for long, if the customer service around it sucks.

So what can we as business owners, managers, sales representatives or consultants do about it.

Simple. Find the ideal balance. A balance that gets the enquiry, and then closes the deal, and then the repeat sale.

Here’s 9 things to consider:

  1. Be sincere
  2. Invest in customer service strategies as well as product and marketing
  3. Focus on culture and positively encourage your team
  4. Script your calls–both inbound and outbound
  5. Diarise follow ups [use a CRM] and let your client know about an update before they even think to ask for one
  6. Be consistent and predictable in quality and communication
  7. Under promise and over deliver
  8. Know your stuff!
  9. Welcome constructive feedback – action it and then say “look what we did!”

So there are three aspects to consider: marketing [including graphic design, branding and pricing]; product [quality] and [customer] service. Make people aware of the product, over-satisfy them with quality and deliver it with beautiful sincerity. Oh, that sounds just perfect! More of that, please.

Love to hear about your experiences and ideas.

Dan Kuss

About Dan Kuss

Twenty years in the design industry can do one of two things – drive your love affair with all things design, or drive you nuts. We’re pretty sure Dan hasn’t gone nuts. What does drive him nuts is agency-centric solutions.


  • Matt Lees says:

    Great article. I would add a tenth: Believe.
    In recognition of great service I recommend the Saltram restaurant in Angaston for lunch. They not only delivered great food but great customer service, not over the top but attentive.

  • Dan Kuss Dan Kuss says:

    Thanks Matt. Did you let the restaurant know? Feedback is the breakfast of champions!

  • Gina Brooks says:

    Great article Dan.
    One of my biggest disappointments in consulting with retail is the priority they place on packing.
    Of course it’s a job that needs to be done but when it becomes a bigger priority than attending to a customer then the business needs to ask itself is it really customer focused or product focused? Like you I believe feedback is a gift that keeps on giving. Unfortunately not all retailers are thankful and it ends up being returned.
    Keep up the great work.

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