An article in the June 7, 2010,Wall Street Journalcaught my eye. Titled“Customer Service as a Growth Engine,”the article described efforts by large organizations such as Walgreens, Comcast, American Express and others to pay “more attention to customer service in an effort to increase sales and gain market share in the economic recovery.” The Journal cited a recent survey of more than 1,400 companies that found more than a quarter saying customer service would be the prime target of increased funding once the economy improved.

To which I silently responded,Duh!

I wonder if it occurred to executives at all those companies surveyed, as it did to me, that had they invested more money in - or not scraped it away from - customer service activities when the downturn hit, they might already be enjoying increased sales and market share. It’s a real simple concept. People like to do business with companies that make it likeable to do business with them.

Running a business can get pretty complicated, but customer service is not. You don’t need an MBA to master it, and it costs little to nothing to implement. Top-notch customer service is a matter of attitude and simply applying the Golden Rule to your policies and procedures that relate to customer interactions.            

While on the subject, here’s another customer service issue worth pondering. During my 33 years covering this industry, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a company - whether manufacturer, distributor or rep firm - that didn’t claim to deliver great customer service.

But after you ask their customers, “What do you think of XYZ Company?” the self-congratulations become full of holes.

I think the vast majority of companies that lay claim to great customer service truly believe it. They point to high levels of inventory investment, fill rates and other metrics and convince themselves that these statistics don’t lie.

Except, as someone once observed, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Moral:the only people who can grade you on customer service are your customers. If you want to know how well you please them, keep asking.