Management Articles


Customer Service is a Timeless Key to Profitability

By: Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is

I've spoken to, or worked, with hundreds of management teams interested in becoming more "customer-driven". Many aspire, some understand, but only a few truly do. Despite all the proclamations, catchy advertising slogans, and customer service publicity, service levels have improved only marginally in the last few years. As Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter puts it, "Despite the recent media coronation of King Customer, many customers will remain commoners... most businesses today say that they serve customers. In reality, they serve themselves."

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Effective teams, organizations, and leaders exist to serve others. And those who provide the highest levels of service/quality enjoy the richest rewards. That's not just some platitude or warm and fuzzy theory, it's become a well proven fact. When I researched and wrote Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, I found mountains of evidence that companies with the highest service/quality levels have the highest levels of growth in revenue, customer satisfaction and retention, market share, productivity, safety, and employee morale while also reducing costs. So it's not surprising that the best service/quality leaders are also profitable leaders. The research continues to pour in. My files are bulging with study after study showing that outstanding service/quality performance is one of the key contributors to outstanding financial performance.

It's nothing new. Peter Drucker has been reminding us for decades that the only reason for the existence of any business is to get and keep customers. Winston Churchill once said, "If you aim to profit, learn to please." A century ago, Russell Conwell would conclude his famous Acres of Diamonds speeches by urging his listeners to start their search for riches by "first knowing the demand." He continued, "You must first know what people need, and then invest yourself where you are most needed."

Over the next few years, a massive computer industry shake-out will give us plenty of examples of what happens when customers aren't clearly identified and their expectations aren't uncovered -- let alone being met. I've had my fill of dealing with companies who provide a reasonable piece of hardware or a good software program and then can't even answer the phone. Trying to get service support from one of these companies is about as much fun as having an ingrown toenail removed. At a software conference, a leading computer market researcher told me that his biggest challenge is getting useable customer lists. In other words, many of his computer industry clients have no idea who their customers are. That's because they're overly product focused. Many are one-product-wonders who developed a specialized product or found a narrow niche and have never really had to compete for business. They haven't had to worry about service because there were always more customers to replace those lost through careless neglect. Many are destined to become road kill on the "information superhighway."

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