Never and Always: Creating a Customer-First Organization

Never and Always: Creating a Customer-First Organization

You want customer loyalty? Be brilliant at the basics.

World-class service companies have what I like to call a "customer bill of rights" that every person in that organization clearly knows and follows 100 percent of the time. Would you ever expect to see a Disney cast member on break, in full uniform, chewing tobacco and spitting on the ground near the front entrance where guests are walking? Doubtful. Would you ever think a Ritz-Carlton employee, when asked for directions to the ballroom, would respond, "I don't know. I work in housekeeping."? Highly unlikely! One of the most effective ways to elevate your company's customer service level is by instituting your own customer bill of rights.

If anyone is going to wear your uniform or name tag or represent your brand, you need only a small set (6 to 10 actions or standards) for your employees to live by. These non-negotiable standards are also referred to as the "Never and Always" list. The critical importance is that if they do occur, you have to be confident enough that your employees recognize and understand the list and would "never" do this and "always" do that instead.

If your company does nothing other than institute the "never and always" list, makes everyone aware of it, and your customers rarely experience a "never" and consistently experience an "always," then you are in the top 5 percent of customer service organizations! As you read through the list, you will see that they are all simple and commonsense. Yet the majority of businesses and front-line employees too often execute the "Never" list and don't consistently execute the "Always" list.

Never and Alawys

Ideally, you want a maximum of 10 of each, following these criteria:

  1. Items are typically one to three words long.
  2. They are black and white; there is no room for personal interpretation.
  3. They are crystal clear and do not need any additional explanation.

Some things you would not see on a "Never and Always" list are things such as "Always be professional" or "Always return calls promptly". Why? Because they are vague. What is professional to one is completely different to someone else. What is "promptly"? To one person it may be two hours; to another it may be two days. Here are three examples:

  • Always: Point versus show. This is typically thought of in the hospitality business, for example showing someone to the restroom instead of pointing to it. However, in the business-to-business and call center world, pointing happens all the time. For instance, it happens when we say things like, "You can get that from our website" or "You need to call this person in this department." Why are we making the customer do the work? We can send them the link and we can transfer them to the correct department.
  • Never: Say "no" instead of focusing on what you can do. Eliminate the word "no" from your company's vocabulary; no one should ever be allowed to use that word. You may not always be able to say yes, but offer alternatives and options, and never allow anyone from your company to utter the word. You will be amazed at how creative your team will get at satisfying customers. I never want a customer of mine to tell me that someone from my organization said "no" to them. To me that is the worst word you can use with a customer. While we cannot do everything our customers request, we always can respond with what we can do. If someone asks if we can sell them something we don't carry, we can answer, "While we do not carry Product X, what we do carry is Product Z. And the reason we carry Product Z is because it is proven to be the best, longest-lasting, healthiest, etc." By the time you are done explaining the benefits of Product Z, that customer should never want Product X again. Yet if for some reason they still want Product X, explain how and where they can get it.
  • "No problem" is a big problem. The biggest slang responses used in every business today are "No problem" or "Not a problem". In fact, as a result of reading this, you will be shocked at how many times you will hear "No problem" over the next two days. Joe Schumacker wrote an excellent blog titled "No Problem, Big Problem" that articulates this point really well. "No problem" is a problem for two reasons. The first issue is that it consists of two negative words. We shouldn't be using any negative words with customers, let alone two back to back.

The second problem with "No problem" is that it sends the message that what the customer is asking is not a problem for the employee. However, when we are serving others, it is not about our convenience, it is about what the customer wants. "No problem" places the staff member's comfort ahead of service to the customer. Customers want to feel that their interests are first and foremost in the mind of the staff member--not that they may have inconvenienced someone by being a customer.

Excellent alternative responses are "Certainly," "My pleasure," "I would be happy to," "Consider it done," and "Absolutely." These responses elevate the professionalism of your employees and start establishing a culture of hospitality where the customer is first.

John R. DiJulius III, author of The Customer Service Revolution, is president of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that works with companies including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Nestle, PwC, Lexus, and many more. Call him at 216-839-1430 or email

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