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Please, give me the truth and treat me like a human being

He had spiky, gelled hair, wore a suit under his anorak, and had a clipboard. He was disturbing my evening meal. He was all youthful smiles and gangly awkwardness. At times like this, I wished I had a video camera scanning the front porch so I could decide whether or not to respond to the insistent bell-ringing. Too late, I was snared by his insufferable enthusiasm and my politeness conditioning. I knew I just had to stand there and take it like a mouse that just realized that the cheese comes with conditions.

Despite the manipulation—it was clearly company policy to catch people off-guard at home—and despite a well-honed sixth sense that warned of impending disappointment, I surprised myself by turning my back on my satisfactory, uncomplicated supplier and signing up for savings on my electricity bill. A month or two afterwards, I sent the new supplier an email. The gist of it went something like this:

I signed up because I liked the idea. Wanted to pay on line. Couldn’t register on the website. Kept going round in circles with customer support. Gave up. Got an estimated reading. Phoned and gave someone the correct reading, who said it would be adjusted. Asked to be billed by mail. Got a message months later to say postal bills would be coming to me. Haven’t received one yet. Got another notification to send in my meter reading. Tried, honest. The website says you need to have an eleven digit number ready that is on your bills. Haven’t received a bill yet. Fuck this! Tried to call customer support. Waited five minutes while some dingbat kept telling me all the wonderful things that can happen if I switch. I already had. Wondered why. Wish I’d stayed with previous supplier. Less carbon emissions generated by frustration. Hello… hello… anybody there?

There followed, in slow succession, a string of standard emails telling me to do what I’d already tried to do, refusing to give me a bank account number I could transfer payments to, refusing to return me to my previous supplier and eventually whipping money from my bank account ‘to save me the bother’.

Throughout this charade, I was treated with the utmost professionalism and politeness by people following a well-written rule book. However, it was insulting, cumbersome, frustrating, costly and left me feeling bruised, battered and resentful.

This was professional customer service, and it happens all the time. It shouldn’t be like that, so…

Why do so many companies make a complete hash of communicating with their customers?

It generally comes down to two words: authenticity and creativity. Unfortunately, in the manic drive to build big customer-bases competitively, many companies don’t seem to be able to recruit people who they can trust to be creative and authentic on their behalf. So, they invent rules and procedures for them to follow, give them impossible targets to reach, and send them out with inadequate decision-making powers.

These days, if I am approached by a young professional in a sharp suit, my guards are up. If we start to communicate, I am searching for the cracks in the machine-like company facade, looking for the human inside. I’m hoping to by-pass the hype and dogma to see if there is something—anything—that will help me warm to this company and that will help me trust them. That’s what I feel I have to do, to see if I can find out if they really give a damn about anything other than the sale, to see if they are likely to care about me. If I am fed company-speak, the person I am talking to sadly becomes a conduit for company character, rather than a person in their own right. Unless, that is, I find some chinks in the armour, and we start talking human to human. Then I start to feel better about the company as well.

In customer service, there’s a big difference between pleasing and performing.

I even wonder, sometimes, if customer service is anything to do with customers and service, rather than playing the numbers game in sales and keeping a clean image for PR. So often, the process of interacting with a customer service department is so anal it resembles a badly flushing toilet. It makes all the right noises and seems to perform all the right actions, but…

I was recently a greatly relieved when a company that I was struggling to deal with stopped trying to perform and admitted that they couldn’t help me. I was much happier to know that, than to be strung along with undeliverable promises. It saved us all a lot of wasted time and frustration and, to me, that was great customer service. I actually felt much more positive about the company, and am now happy to recommend them, knowing what they can and can’t do, and that they are straight about it.

I like to think that customer relations and communications are about sorting out problems and making people feel good, rather than creating a brick wall of defensiveness driven by fear of losing business, getting sued or earning a bad reputation. It needs to be flipped around again, back to the positive. And of course, there are loads of examples of companies doing it well. If you want to see an example a good one, get naked—or Nakd to be precise. They add wonderful humour on their product packaging that certainly made me laugh and makes them come over as refreshingly human. On the underside of a pack of their raw food bars it welcomes you with “Hello gorgeous. Fancy meeting you here. You are aware, of course, that you have this box upside down. We salute your curiosity…”. And the bars themselves follow the theme with such helpful advice as “Best before your friend eats it“, and other delights.

So, let’s hear some of your examples. Not the bad ones—just the good. Maybe there’ll be a few companies that will read this, and start to realize that being human is a good way to work with other humans—their customers!

Lewis is an artist, author, entrepreneur, inventor, marketing communications consultant and business mentor. Fuelled by creativity and driven by a passion to provide innovation, impact and influence, his career has taken in a large variety of disciplines, skills and experience across many areas of industry and the public sector. He has worked with startups, SMEs, multinationals, rock stars, legends of film, the UN, people with AIDS and many more. All this has made him at times cynical, but more than ever confident that the future is bright if we can only empower ourselves and each of us employ our unique creativity to help achieve this. Through his service - - Lewis offers a powerful four-step programme and a range of marketing communications services aimed at improvement, transformation, increased efficiency and profitability. He also runs creativity courses and courses in currency trading ( His most recent venture ( is concerned with making complex and long-winded information on websites fun and quick to understand and act upon. His first novel, Hominine - it's time to choose ( is a powerful geopolitical thriller that fictionalized popular global concerns - and then provides answers!

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  • Great post Lewis. Really enjoyed it. Never heard of Nakd so will check them out!nThe bigger a company is, the higher the chances that they are operating a factory with hundreds if not thousands of employees “following a book/script” and automated action. I understand your frustration. There’s nothing we can do simply because it all comes down to “that employee” (not the employer) to decide that any given day is willing to try to perform some emotional work. As a result you will see a human being in action and even if the end of the conversation is “sorry sir, we won’t be able to help you”, chances are that you’ll leave that room or phone call happier.nA restaurant for example is a different type of “factory” with loads of automated actions. There’s a good chance as well to be treated like a robot. Fortunately that was not me experience this past Saturday. I went for brunch to a place in Chiswick called Sam’s Brasserie. We walked in and grabbed a table. One of the waitresses very politely showed us a good spot and while handing over the menus she said “today there’s a rugby match so the kitchen is very busy. Your food might take between 10 to 15 minutes…(she paused and gave us a smile and then said…) but it’s worth it”. How can you not wait after that?nFood came in less than 10 minutes (over delivered) and it was amazing.”Authenticity and creativity”.

  • Nialldevitt

    Hi Lewis, great great post! I’ve had the misfortune of seeing this from the other side, in other words I was once the gangly awkward suit and tie that knocked your door. It’s worth remembering that young people are impressionable, want to be successful and are often just cast aside if they don’t match up by these companies. I’ve sat in meetings that could be best described as cult indoctrinations. nnCustomer facing/dealing roles are most often the worst trained, worst paid and highly targeted roles within an organisation, which should tell you what you need to know about most businesses view customer service. As you point out, there are some wonderful exceptions. I recently had one in Lidl where after forgetting my wallet, the lady at the till showed wonderful understanding and patience to help ease my embarrassment. I thought to myself afterwards, now there is someone Iu2019d like to know. n

  • Anonymous

    Nice one Fred! And so often, it takes so little, doesn’t it! I’m glad you enjoyed your meal. :0)

  • Anonymous

    It’s so true what you say. And I don’t dislike the people who stand in the cold, in the firing line. I actually feel sad that they are caught between a rock and a hard place. nnI actually tried a different tack once, when I lived in Vancouver. A guy came to the door of my gallery selling vouchers for football games. I invited him in, sat him down and we had a chat about what he really wanted in life. I don’t think anyone had done that with him before. Soon afterwards, I heard from him again. He’d chucked the job, moved to Tokyo and was following his ambitions in martial arts. I was stunned – and very happy for him.nnBy the way, I won’t mention the girl in Lidl to anyone….. ;0)

  • Anonymous

    Lewis,rnrnThe more I am in business, the more I find bad customer service aggravating. It is just so unnecessary. Would it be so horrible for a problem to be solved without the rigamarole of pushing this button or talking to several people who are polite but not allowed to rectify the situation?rnrnWe bought a car a few years ago and the salesperson calls every year during the anniversary month. It is a short call since the car is reliable, zippy and enjoyable. However, he doesn’t have to make that call. We didn’t buy one of the top cars on the lot so it’s not like we’re extra special customers or anything. He calls because he believes in remaining connected to ALL of his customers, not just the big spenders. It’s nice to know that we’re not just a “sale” but people he’d like to keep as customers for the future.

  • Anonymous

    That’s great, isn’t it. And now you are telling the world, and he’ll get more customers on your recommendation. nnWhat I am beginning to realize from these posts, is that customer service is easy when it’s done well, and a joy to be involved in and receive!

  • I was buying 3 cards in a shop yesterday. 2 had no price, asked a woman who was already scanning something for someone else at the till (not in use). She ignored me, I thought maybe she didn’t hear me, so I asked her again looking her in the eye, her eyes flickered and she turned her head away slightly and said nothing, but continued to scan in front of me. I left the 3 cards on the counter in front of her and walked out.nAlternatively, I would have been very sharp with her, which was not right either, so I walked.nnI am experiencing extreme sides of the scales with service, and fully acknowledge it when it is positive. A girl last week, walked me the full length of her department store to show me a lovely place to have lunch across the road, as she ate there regularly. I told the cafe about it, and advised them to thank her next time :)nnThe suit thing ~ I used to be a suit person, it was my way of feeling professional and in control, to mask my nerves and inexperience. It helped a lot. I rarely wear suits now (mostly for the cold weather).nnCully & Sully do the communicating thing very well through their packaging I feel. And Lady Umbrella tee shirts also impress me. There are many more, but cannot think of them right now – MOO business cards :)nnPeople at the front of a business do not realise it is their opportunity to absolutely SHINE! Impress their peers, colleagues, boss, customers and community. WHY don’t we realise that??? And it would make an otherwise monotonous day enjoyable…nnThe debate will continue for centuries…

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Elaine. I had a similar experience at a local cafe recently. I sat for half an hour at a table outside. After that time, two people sitting next to me, who had been chatting and smoking, flicking butts into the road, got up and went inside. I then realized they were serving staff. I was insensed, and mentioned it on a ratings website. Since then, I have been back, and those two weren’t there. The service was fast, friendly and impeccable. I wonder if they had read my post, but even if they hadn’t, I was really pleased that things had changed, and that they had an opportunity to be successful now.

  • Christian Kortenhorst

    I am available!

  •  asasaasass

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