Chopped Liver:
Why Your Customers Leave

The etymology (word history) of the question, “What am I, chopped liver?” originated from the use of chopped liver as a side dish.  It is a way to spotlight being treated as unimportant.  And, indifference towards customers has today reached epic proportions.  It is a primary cause for why customers leave.

Customers may not necessarily need their service provider to love them, but it is clear they expect to be appreciated and valued.  The opposite of love is not hate—hate is a completely different emotion; the opposite of love is indifference (a.k.a., chopped liver).  Personality-challenged employees and those sleep walking through their day signal to customers an uncaring attitude, especially after being given payment of some type.  It is a complete violation of the ageless service covenant.

Upsetting the Service Covenant

The service covenant has been around for centuries.  It has always been grounded in the concept of the direct or implied pledge of fair bartering--a merchant provided a product or service in exchange for some type of remuneration.  Energy might be spent on either side of the covenant on the fairness of the exchange (server spends energy on promotion; customer spends energy on obtaining perceived worth), but the essence of the agreement has remained intact.  There is a promise implied on both sides of the encounter.

The covenant for a product is a bit different from the covenant for a service.  The tangible, nature of a product makes the determination of quality much easier.  Customers have expectations a product will be as described and have recourse if it does not—a replacement or a refund.  Replacement typically means another object like the one we purchased (hopefully without the glitch) is taken from inventory or stock and given to us.  In this fashion the covenant can be restored.

The service covenant has some similarities.  However, since service is largely an experience, unlike a product it cannot not be stockpiled, inventoried, or sent back for a replacement.  Consequently, recourse for a broken promise is not in like kind.  Displeasure with your haircut might get you a discount on your next one but there was no way to get your hair back like it was.  So, what is the recourse hardwired into the service covenant?

The customer derives some comfort through the fact that service is delivered through an experience the customer actually co-creates with the service provider.  The inclusion of winks, nods, clicks, sounds and sighs both from customer and service provider during the co-creation process provides customers a way to be the guardian of their side of the transaction.  And, if the service provider gives customers solid value, there is an expectation customers will provide fair remuneration, in some settings a tip; if customers provide fair remuneration, there is the expectation service provider will acknowledge its worth to them.

What happens to the covenant in the mind of the customer when the service provider fails to properly participate in the co-creation process?  “Conventional people are roused to fury,” wrote philosopher Bertrand Russell, “by a departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.”

So, what does this all have to do with chopped liver?  Part has to do with the customer’s belief that fairness includes some communications of appreciation for their investment.  When a frontline employee demonstrates indifference to the customer, it is more than bad manners; it is a violation of the implied service covenant.  And the fairness dissonance on the part of the customer is even more acute today.

Today’s Cautious Customer

Customers today are much more cautious in their choices (and they have many more choices) and interested only in getting obvious value for their money.  That value includes of gratitude for their fulfilling their side of the covenant.  They are also more informed of choices; smarter in choice making, and selective in whom they elect to join.  And, they are much quicker to leave if unhappy.  They not only show a lower tolerance for error, they will exit just on getting plain old apathetic service.

This dramatic shift in the requirements for customer retention and loyalty--the stuff of growth and profits—make it crucial to put a microscope on those junctures where customers and service providers intersect.  Higher customer expectations make face-to-face, ear-to-ear and online encounters all vulnerable to intense customer scrutiny.  When front line employees deliver service that only minimally fulfills the customer’s stated needs, they are taken aback when customers provide less than satisfactory grades.

Most customers react to bad service by quickly leaving.  Most customers respond to indifferent service by smoldering privately as they plot an alternative.  Because they remain quiet for a while, the service provider believes all is well.  So, when a “tipping point” incident triggers a customer’s departure it appears sudden and capricious.  And, since their exit has been clandestinely planned, the customer’s explanation for closing an account or changing to another service provider focuses on some oblique reason associated with the moment of departure and not their history of feeling like chopped liver.

How to Avoid Customer Loss

Service with a difference (not indifference) is delivered with the extra energy of employees committed to making a distinction, not just completing a task.  It shouts joy in a form that is infectious and attitude changing.  It eradicates the “spirit leeches” eager to suck the energy and zeal out all those around them.  Service with a difference elevates service to something special, not just something plain vanilla and quickly forgettable.

When my we exited the Hertz courtesy van at the Hartford airport, the below-freezing winter wind bit hard.  But, the Hertz attendant had a warm smile and an obvious eager-to-help attitude.  “This is way too cold!” one of us commented with teeth chattering.  She almost giggled.  “Now, you know, in Hartford we do weather as entertainment!”  Ten miles down the road we were still laughing at her unexpected passion-filled comment.

Service with a difference requires a culture that hires for attitude.  It is one that makes service excellence a requirement, not optional.  All that takes leaders who clearly communicate expectations that everyone serve with a positive attitude and who support and affirm actions that produce customer delight.  And, it requires leaders who do not keep people who fail to deliver great customer care.  It is better to have a vacancy than and employee with a vacant attitude.

© 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.