Customer Service Hell - Clear and Open

Customer Service Hell

Have you been to customer service hell?

Of course, you have. It gains more ground in our world every day.

Personal responsibility is in decline.

There are many facets to good customer service, but there’s one principle that underlies all of them: personal ownership.

Good customer service happens when an agent takes personal responsibility for solving the problem.

Bad customer service happens when the agent does the minimum necessary to make it look like they care.

Personal responsibility is the only context that results in great customer service. Everything either flows from this or not. In this article, I’m going to show how some customer service basics (that aren’t basic anymore) connect to personal ownership so you can either deliver or manage a great customer experience.

The Handoff

The handoff is a dying art that was once more common. If the agent you just told your problem to needs to transfer you, they save you time and energy by communicating your issue to the next agent for you. Once you tell your problem to a personally responsible agent, they become the project manager for your problem. Why would you have to repeat the problem? They’re on it. You’ve done your job, and now it’s in their hands.

The Apology

A personally responsible agent is authentically and compassionately sorry about the bad experience you had, even if they had nothing to do with it. They take ownership of your problem as a representative of the entire company, so you can feel heard and know that justice is served. They do not say the conditional, “I’m sorry IF there was any inconvenience” because the word “if” invalidates any apology.

This is similar to what happens in couples when one person says “Whatever I did, I’m sorry!” Bullshit. You can’t apologize with a fill-in-the-blank. It’s not Mad-Libs. What is really being said is, “Can we please pretend the conflict is resolved so I don’t have to take personal responsibility?” No.


A personally responsible agent does what they say they will. They don’t need to be reminded. They don’t need the customer to call back to make sure things are going forward. They own the problem and are going to solve it like a cavity they’re going to get filled. It’s just got to happen. They proactively communicate to the customer what’s happening, don’t leave them wondering, and don’t make them waste time inquiring about what’s going on.

Customer Service Is Personal

There are two primary influences that cause either good or bad customer service: how the agent leads their own life, and how they are treated by management. An agent who doesn’t own and handle their own personal problems isn’t usually able to take responsibility for the problems of others. People who procrastinate, shirk responsibility, play victim to circumstance, etc. with their own problems will the do the same when they’re supposed to be responsible for the problems of others. In other words, if they’re not aggressive about solving their own problems, they won’t be with others’.

But even responsible agents who are poorly managed eventually treat their customers the same way they are treated. Remember, it doesn’t matter what a manager says. People listen more closely to what you do. So if the agent’s manager doesn’t follow-through, needs to be reminded of things, and drops balls, you can count on the agents doing the same with their customers.

It’s in this way that great customer service never stands alone: it’s an expression of a healthy culture. You know what it sounds like when an agent is reading a script and sounds like a robot. You can create systems to support the expression of care, but systems won’t create the care that comes with personal responsibility. That comes from deep inside.

Where do you start? One place is by getting organized. Overwhelm is one of the primary killers of personal responsibility. Start a free trial of Clear Workspace, Open Mind to get a taste of how decluttering your mind can lead to greater personal responsibility. If you can’t manage yourself and your own clutter, you can’t serve others.

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