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All too often, customer service is a joke. And it’s not funny.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 3.25.56 PMMost days I feel like Howard Beale, portrayed brilliantly by Peter Finch in the movie Network. Whether I am calling my bank, healthcare insurer, airline, cable or cell provider, I feel like opening my window and screaming out, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

While most brands continue to increase their marketing efforts to win new customers, many fail to show appreciation for the ones they already have. They can keep the 20% discount coupon on my birthday. Just be responsive and respectful, answer my questions and solve my problems, or simply go a little bit out of their way to show that they value my business.

I went into my local Starbucks the other day with a bag of Starbucks French Roast beans I had bought at Costco. When I asked if they would mind grinding them for me, the manager refused, saying, “We will only grind beans that you buy in this store.” Now, last year, we probably spent over $3,000 at Starbucks and they won’t grind a bag of beans for me! Said it was the rules.

We fly Delta almost exclusively, domestically and internationally. But a few months ago when I needed to unexpectedly change my flight to Atlanta two hours after I had purchased it so I could attend a funeral, they wanted to charge me $700 more for my ticket. Said it was the rules.

Or how about Avis? Recently, I rented a car in Columbus that smelled like a carton of Marlboros. When I called their ‘customer service’ line from the road, they said that I had to take the car back to the airport for an exchange even though I told them I would miss my meeting. I asked what exactly they meant by “We try harder!” They said sorry, but it was, well, you know.

Whether it is the person at the post office who makes it clear by the way they treat you that they hate their job, or my bank that makes me wait on the phone for twenty minutes and then connects me to a supervisor in Singapore whom I can’t understand, customer service today feels more like customer servitude.

Whether it is on the phone, the web or in person, through better people, better training or enhanced technology, every company needs to rethink how they are treating their customers or they won’t have them to worry about. As Sam Walton said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

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