Customer service Engagement

“The Music is Not in the Guitar”

[Note: I love the message in this guest post written by Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson, co-authors of the new book Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About It.]

“The music is not in the guitar” are lines from an extraordinary new book called Life is Good by Jake and Rocket (aka, Bert and John Jacobs). It holds a special message for remarkable service. Examine how much energy and resources organizations typically spend on CRM software, ironclad return policies, service processes and procedures, and call center metric mania. In the end, service is not about stuff–it is about people creating positively memorable experiences for customers. Even erudite and super sterile business to business connections are far less B2B than P2P–people to people.

The recent recession has triggered budget cuts that have had some unfortunate impacts on service quality. Some budget cuts were necessary for financial survival. But, some of been the result of very flawed decision-making. We all appreciate the value of belt-tightening and trying to do more with less. We all understand the virtue of instilling in employees a strong sense of frugalness, particularly during tough economic times.

When I was in junior high school my dad lost his job at a bank. It took a while before he was named a credit manager at a small farm implement company. During the lean months he taught us kids a lot about financial conservation–it was a family affair we all shared. When we sat down for a family meal, if there was a bedroom light left on, he charged the last person to exit that room a nickel (40 cents in today’s dollars). We soon learned to switch off lights as we left the room.

There is an old saying that goes, “cutting fat makes you healthier; cutting muscle makes you weaker.” When the budgeting ax carves an extreme cut out of support needed by frontline employees, then customers suffer. The circular effect will come back to haunt you. Such a penny wise-pound foolish approach can leave employees demoralized and the customers they serve disappointed. If important front line tools and training are excised from the budget, it is the customers who fund the organization that catch the impact.

Convergys Corporation in March 2010 completed a major survey of over 2500 customers and over 1500 employees. Seventy-seven percent of customers indicated that service quality over the last year has either stayed the same or gotten worse. And, 31% of employees stated they did not have the necessary tools; 25% reported they did not have the necessary training. There is likely a direct link between the customers’ assessment of service and the employees’ assessment of the lack of tools or training!

Who is paid more–an IT programmer or a front-line clerk; the bus driver or the bus mechanic? Where are training dollars directed—toward supervisors or the customer contact people? Do systems make service delivery easier for the people who serve customers or more efficient for the organization? Guitars make harmonious melodies only in the hands of talented, prepared and passionate performers. The same thing is true for customer-facing employees. Take care of the guitar; but, cherish the musician.

(Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. They can be reached at



2 replies on ““The Music is Not in the Guitar””

David, your comment that the company “did little to dispel this feeling” speaks volumes about the company. I wonder how much higher turnover would be if the economy was better and offered more opportunities for people to leave? Best of luck as you return to school!

I cannot agree with this strongly enough. I am currently employed with a national company that was very hard hit by the economic downturn of 2008 and has only recently shown significant recovery. All too often it seemed that the cost cutting measures taken by the company were directed at the frontline, direct service employees, of which I am one. While this feeling may not be entirely accurate the company did very little to dispel this feeling among the employees. Thus, the frontline over the last few years has become very demoralized, and turnover increased sharply, at least in my locality. In the long run, it’s personally a blessing in disguise, because the lack of sense of opportunity there is causing me to finally return to school for my degree. However, this surely will have long term degrading effects for the firm.

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