You Are Not an Island

It all started with a missing subwoofer speaker cord.  I had purchased a set of speakers which the new receiver promptly blew.  The electronics store was an hour from my home.  But, I drove the distance to take the speakers in for repair.  I was told that the sales person had sold me speakers that were not compatible with the receiver.  They could not exchange them since I did not take out their replacement insurance policy.  However, they would return them to the manufacturer for repair.

Weeks later I made another hour long trip to pick up the repaired speakers.  When they loaded the speakers in my car they neglected to include the special three foot cord that connected the subwoofer to the misbehaving receiver.  I called to the store to report the missing cord.

“Yes, we have it here.  We found it in our work area.  Just drop by the store and pick it up,” the smart-alecky tech told me.  I pressed harder.  “But, I live an hour away.  How about putting the cord in the mail to me?”  The tech got a bit more deviant.  “Sorry, we are not set up to do that!”  Now, my emotions were turned up to bright red.

“Let me get this straight,” I preached.  “Your sales person sold me speakers that were not compatible with the receiver he sold me.  I live an hour away and drove in twice—first to bring in the blown speakers and then to pick them up after they were repaired.  You made a second mistake by neglecting to include the subwoofer speaker cord.  Now, you want me to do all the work to recover from your mistakes.  Does that make any sense to you?”

He shot back point blank. “You’ll have to talk with the shipping department.  We are not set up to mail anything.”  After the runaround, I finally got the store manager who agreed to spend two dollars to mail me the three foot speaker cord.

Customer service hangs on the capacity of one unit to partner with another on behalf of the customer, not for the convenience of the unit.  Silo thinking and “not my job” attitudes send customers to a competitor faster than most any service practice.  It requires joint accountability and affirmation of great partnership between units, not just teamwork within units.  As our client Norma Maltez, head of service excellence experience for Banco de Finanzas in Nicaragua profoundly said in a recent inter-unit meeting, “You are not an island; we are a country!”  As the late Ron Zemke was fond of saying, “If you are not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is.”

© Chip Bell Group, 2023.  Courtesy of John R. Patterson (  Permission is given to download and distribute this article as long as it contains this copyright notice.