Being unable to see their business through customers’ eyes loses more business than the recession. So says Michael McLaughlin, for twenty-years a business vetting manager for the Guild of Master Craftsmen. The biggest haemorrhage of assets is the loss of goodwill caused by de-motivated staff.

As fast as service providers generate business through imaginative cost effective advertising, they lose it because of poor staff training and management. The average customer can reel off a dozen businesses they no longer frequent because they have been offended by poor customer service. It is the self-inflicted recession that never goes away.


The chairman of an American car making giant was the first to see the light. He couldn’t understand why Japanese rivals were outselling his company’s equally good products. Delegating members of his staff as make believe customers he sent them to his firm’s dealerships … and to Japanese outlets.

He was shocked by the culture of complacency in his own firm’s showrooms when compared with the customer-friendly ‘can do’ response of his Japanese and South Korean competitors.

Setting up a department of mystery shoppers; their brief was to identify poor service when judged from a customer’s perspective. He then aimed to find problems and to rectify them before customers voted with their feet.

He added a complaints department that actually listened to customers, acted on their complaints; identified and repaired problems so they didn’t recur. The head of another corporation said: ‘Today there isn’t much difference in products; it is service that counts.’


McLaughlin sets out a test for business owners: Write down the number of businesses you and your staff members no longer support, not because their products are inferior but because their service leaves you disappointed. He says he can think of a dozen with the highest proportion being restaurants, though interestingly the Chinese eateries score high marks.

Main complaints are incompetent, inattentive or surly waiting on staff; a shoulder shrugging indifference to meals delivered late or badly cooked, poor value for money, and a lack of entertainment.

Other offenders are town hall and local authority quangos. He says they should remember their monopoly does not justify poor customer service. If their salaries are sourced from their customers’ bank accounts then they have a duty to work to the highest standards of customer service.

The former quality assessment expert says business owners can build and retain custom by inviting friends, unknown to staff, to give their honest opinion after using his services. He says; “By all means tell the staff of your intentions. In my experience they respond well when they are involved without threat but with rewards for customer building service.”

Business owners,” he adds, “should heed the wise words of the Scottish poet, Robbie Burns: “The greatest gift that God can give us; to see ourselves as others see us.”