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We Have a Customer Service Crisis in America

We've all been there. We wait in a long line at the drive thru, finally get to order our coffee and breakfast sandwich, and then we're given the price....$15. We are then asked if we want to leave a tip. We begrudgingly give a couple bucks only to get home and find out that there's cheese on the sandwich and we clearly asked for no cheese. Ok well that's fast food. What happens when we call DirecTV or Spectrum? Same thing, we wait on hold for 30 minutes. We finally get someone, we repeat the answers to our security questions half a dozen times only to find out the person we're speaking with can't help you. They transfer you to a different department and the process starts again.

The only thing worse than paying more for virtually every product and service we consume, is paying more and getting less service. I think we all recognize the deterioration of customer service in this Country. Most of it is explained away by "it's hard to get good help", but really how did we get to the point where poor customer service is no longer the exception, it's the norm. Below, I'm going to outline how we got here, and believe it or not, it's our fault, and only we as a community can solve this problem.

  1. The iPhone/iPad Pacifier - Ever since the iPhone and iPad were invented, parents have used them as a nice distraction for kids. These devices are given to kids at restaurants, friends houses, walks in the stroller, and pretty much anytime Mom or Dad want some peace and quiet. It's interesting how parents want to blame social media companies for excessive screen time and bullying yet they are the ones who gave the babies the crack pipe at such an early age.

  2. No Homework Policies - Several years ago, schools across the Country started adopting "No Homework" policies. Author Alphie Kohn and others point to the following as reasons for "Rethinking Homework":

  • “The negative effects of homework are well known. They include children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and possible loss of interest in learning.”

  • The positive effects of homework are largely mythical. There is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement. ”

  • More homework is being piled on children despite the absence of its value. Over the last quarter-century the burden has increased most for the youngest children, for whom the evidence of positive effects isn’t just dubious; it’s nonexistent.”

Mr. Kohn and his followers miss the whole reason for homework and frankly his ignorance on the subject is surprising. This logic follows the same path as “Why should I take Math, I want to be an English teacher?”; “I don’t need Spanish, they should learn English”; and “Why should I make my bed, I’m just going to sleep in it later”. Homework is about discipline. Homework is less about algebra, chemistry, and President John Adams and more about teaching kids how to complete assignments.

3. No Zero Policy - Just like the "No Homework Policy", the no-zero grading policy has been rising in popularity and sets the lowest possible grade for a student at 50%, even if the students fail to turn in the assignment or leave the test blank. Although the spirit of the policy is to encourage the kids that one bad grade shouldn't tank your semester, it actually does the opposite. It rewards laziness and limits personal accountability. Between the No Homework Policy and the No Zero Policy, we are handcuffing our teachers.

Teachers no longer have the tools they used for generations to discipline students. Instead parents blame the teachers for their kids poor performance. If their child is failing, parents blame the test or the teacher. I've seen many parents over the years "opt out" of standardized tests and march into the principals office and demand to switch teachers. Some of these parents won't even think for a moment that the problem could be their child.

4. Participation Trophies - First, due to the iPhone pacifier, I pass by outdoor basketball courts and baseball fields on a regular basis only to find them empty. Instead, we're more likely to find adults playing Pickle Ball at the park then kids running around. When they do participate, many parents believe their kid is the next Michael Jordan despite putting in zero practice time. In order to accommodate the delusional parent who blames the coach for lack of playing time, we have attempted to make everything "fair". This means everyone pays, everyone plays policies, adjustments of rules to make it easier, and participation trophies.

I remember when my son was four taking karate. They were testing for the next belt and my son pouted during the whole test since his sister took his equipment. The instructor gave him his belt anyway. I went up to the instructor with my son and told him to give it back because he didn't earn it. Of course, the instructor looked at me like I was crazy. I was upset since the main purpose of having my kids take Karate was to learn discipline. We set up a separate test the next day so he could earn the next belt.

Some of you may be reading this and wonder, "What does all this have to do with a customer service crisis?" The answer is simple, we have been raising today's customer service reps over the last 20 years. It's easier to blame someone else, rather than look in the mirror. Unfortunately, I've seen this problem coming for years. I call it "The Woosification of America". Honestly, what did we think would happen when we raised a whole generation of kids on participation trophies, "teachers are giving too much homework", and opting out of "unfair" standardized tests. Thanks to the iPhone pacifier, we have a whole generation of people who can't sit through a meal and have a polite conversation.

I often say the "horrible" teacher, coach, and test weren't invented in the 21st Century. When I was a kid, we had good teachers and bad teachers. For the most part our coaches were just some kids Dad who volunteered. The difference is that this generation hasn't been taught how to deal with the negative. They weren't taught how to work with authority figures (teachers and coaches) that they don't like. We need to teach our kids to respect the position and do their best despite the teacher, coach, or test. This will prepare them when they enter the workforce to respect their employer and deliver good customer service (even if they don't like them).

It should be every business owner and managers hope, that students learn, in school, the following valuable lessons:

  1. Completeness – You need to complete the assignment and follow directions. Do not turn in an incomplete assignment;

  2. Don’t be sloppy – Your work needs to be turned in without spelling errors, and without food or drink stains. The presentation of your work says as much about you as does the content of the assignment;

  3. Punctuality – Your assignment has a due date. There are consequences for turning it in late or forgetting to hand it in.

  4. Don’t Cheat – There are consequences for cutting corners. You will be held responsible for your work product.

Business owners and managers should want to see their future employees learn these valuable lessons listed above while they are in school. Most kids will only learn these lessons through trial and error. WE DO NOT WANT THESE LESSONS LEARNED ON THE JOB! Can you imagine having a client deadline and getting a report back with coffee stains or perhaps your employee tells you the work assignment wasn’t done because his son had a soccer game.

The purpose of schooling is to ultimately prepare our children to become business leaders and productive members of the workforce. As business leaders, we should not be silent while academia prepares students based upon theories and not experience. We have a real problem in this country with an undisciplined workforce and based upon the trend we’re seeing from our schools and families, it might only get worse.


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Marc Jablon

Business Consultant, Entrepreneur, and Writer

Marc Jablon has more than 20 years of business consulting experience which consists of assisting small to mid size businesses in the area of marketing, public relations, and management consulting.  He believes in a customized management and marketing approach to assist his clients in achieving their desired results.
As an entrepreneur, Marc Jablon has been involved in the start up of several businesses across many different industries, including 3D, Wallcovering, Comics and Collectibles, and Travel, among many others.  Marc Jablon is very active in the West Orange Chamber of Commerce. He loves the challenge of helping others with their businesses and the pursuit of the American Dream.




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