Ethics Center: Customer Service

Dazzle Your Customers: Seven Golden Service Principles

“Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you.” The so-called Golden Rule has guided human conduct since time immemorial. It was known in the Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt (ca: 2000 B.C.), in Babylon, as expressed in the Code of Hammurabi, and in ancient Greece. It also appears in one form or another in most major religions. Why has this moral concept had such a large impact on humankind? Because it’s morally right—and pragmatically smart!

It’s no surprise that applying the Golden Rule to customer service makes great sense. In a world of generally declining service levels, customers are ready for better service, and they’re willing to pay extra for it. According to the American Express Customer Service Global Customer Service Barometer:

  • Fewer than one third of consumers see an “increased focus on customer service” on the part of businesses in the current economy.
  • At least one in four consumers believe that companies usually ‘miss their (service) expectations.
  • Two in five consumers believe that companies “are helpful, but don’t do anything extra to keep their business.”

The majority of consumers indicate that they have not completed a transaction or made an intended purchase because of poor customers service.

Yet the dividends for treating customers the way we—and they—wish to be treated are high. According to American Express, roughly nine in ten consumers or more agree that they are more likely to purchase a gift for someone from a company after having a good customer service experience. Plus over half of consumers say they are willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent service. Conversely, the majority of consumers indicate they have not completed a transaction or made an intended purchase because of poor customer service. And over half of consumers would try a new brand or company in order to get better customer service.

Clearly, companies that apply the golden rule to customer service will differentiate themselves from those that don’t. But good intentions will only take you so far. You need to translate the Golden Rule into service guidelines that make a difference. Here are some to get you started:

  1. Stay close to the customer—If you put yourself in your customer’s shoes, you will know how they expect to be treated. Make it a habit to define those expectations regularly, not only by asking yourself what they are, but also by asking them through formal and informal surveys.

  2. Sweat the details—It’s easy to mouth service platitudes. What’s hard is getting down in the trenches and making service happen. To this end, start by drafting a customer service policy and defining specific standards for key service transactions.

  3. Show respect—Respect takes many forms. From addressing customers with the appropriate courtesy titles (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Sir, Miss, Maam) to treating them as unique individuals, worthy of a warm greeting and a sincere thank you for their business.

  4. Train your people and yourself—Try to hire people with the appropriate temperament and skill sets to deliver strong customer service. But hiring the right people is just the beginning. You also need to communicate your service expectations and train them to meet those expectations.

  5. Don’t let disputes fester—Nothing damages customer loyalty more than unresolved conflict. When consumers complain, make sure to document their concerns quickly and put them into a dispute resolution procedure. This will help to prevent damaging E&O insurance claims.

  6. Keep your promises—The old saying, “under promise and over deliver” is so relevant today. The last thing you want to do is make promises you can’t or won’t keep. And remember, it’s not just your own capacity to deliver that’s important, but also your ability to manage unforerseen external events.

  7. Exceed customer expectations—Nothing astonishes consumers more than receiving a higher level of service than they expected. Whether it’s receiving a complimentary product or service after reporting a problem to getting an unexpected management phone calls expressing gratitude for their business, exceptional service always makes a huge impact.

These seven principles will help you translate the Golden Rule into excellent day-to-day service. But they are just starter principles. Keep working to identify specific, actionable procedures that treat customers as you like to be treated. Then implement them rigorously, evaluate your performance religiously, and remediate problems with the wisdom of Hammurabi.

For information on affordable errors and omissions insurance for low-risk insurance agents, investment advisors, and real estate broker/owners, please visit For information on ethical sales practices, please visit the National Ethics Association’s Ethics Center.