“Wait, I Can Buy My Puppy Somewhere Else!” – How Lack of Respect Is Killing Customer Service

By Dr. Ed L. Hansen

A few years back, my youngest daughter and I shared back-to-back poor customer service experiences. As we were driving home from the second poor interaction with the employees of a business, we conducted a post-mortem. It quickly occurred to us that the underlying problem was a lack of respect. What was most interesting was my daughters comment that, “we were not respected as customers because the persons serving us did not respect themselves in what they were doing”. She recognized they did not approach their jobs in a professional manner. They took little pride in what they were doing. Put simply, “respect” for one’s self and respect for others are essential components of what is good customer service.

“I’m not a consumer. I’m your customer. Feel my need.”

My youngest daughter’s “best friend” of almost fifteen years recently died. She raised her Labrador retriever, Abidin, from a puppy. He was the product of an exhausting search on her part of breeds and kennels. We eventually connected with a breeder and a kennel that gave us exactly what we wanted. The kennel owner and staff took the time to understand and meet the needs of the customer, my then twelve-year-old daughter.

As is often the case, her so previous positive customer service encounter that brought her Abidin caused her to want to recreate the experience. She, again, researched breeders and kennels to find a puppy. However, she didn’t have a positive repeat of the past dynamic. In fact, she ran through kennel after kennel that acted as if selling dogs wasn’t their business. Phones went unanswered, emails were ignored, and appointments were not kept. When she did connect with staff from the kennels, they were most often disinterested and disengaged from a discussion of her needs and expectations. There was no empathy for her loss, which was the impetus for her contacting them. She described her interactions with staff as “Yeah, ya’ wanna buy a dog, so what” exchanges. It was interesting that when she finally contacted the owners of the kennel, the tune changed somewhat. However, the engagement she had fifteen years earlier when purchasing the first puppy just wasn’t there.

“Don’t bother me. I’m busy working.”

After a particularly disappointing engagement with one kennel manager that had not responded to an email for forty-eight hours and then was not available for a conference call at a time she had set, my daughter and I decided to go to lunch. We went to a restaurant of national chain that makes custom burritos like “the food in your neighborhood”. Over the time we placed our order, moved through the assembly line, and paid our bill no staff member looked us in the eye or engaged us in any conversation. All we heard were barked phrases, “Black beans, or pinto? You want chicken or beef? Did you say you wanted rice (I was never initially asked)?” Between these questions, the three staff on the line were talking about the concert they attended the previous night and how “stupid” one of their mutual friends acted. I wondered if the owners of the kennels and the restaurant knew how their customers were being treated and whether they would care at all.

Well, my daughter finally connected with a kennel owner in Colorado who presented as a professional dog breeder and kennel operator. He had huge self-respect and was proud of what he did for a living. He was fully engaged with us. He asked about our previous dog. He asked what we like about him. He expressed empathy and shared how difficult the loss of one of his dogs would be for him. He cared about us.

“We do it because we love it.”

I told him about our experience with the other kennels, about how badly we’d been treated (in our opinion). He nailed it with his response, “For many today, it is just about making money, a non-personal transaction. When I became involved in this business, people were passionate about the animals. People got into the business because they loved animals. Now, for most, it’s just a job. Not us, all the folks working here do it because we love it. We love our dogs and become friends with the people who buy them.” The testimonials on their website certainly bear that out.

I thought about the unavailability of the last kennel manager for a conference call she finally set up after not returning emails and calls. She shared that she did not respond because she was just “so busy”. I thought about the staff on the line in the restaurant. Nothing about how they behaved suggested that what they were doing was anything more than a job. What was missing?

Later, I went to get another burrito (I can’t help myself). I went to another store in the same national chain. I actually got a “shout out” from the staff as I walked through the door. Their energy was welcoming. They spoke to me as I moved through the line. While I was eating, the manager came over and asked if I needed a refill on my drink. He stood and talked with me about the company for a few minutes. Something occurred to me as he walked away; he respected himself and the work he was doing. He saw himself as the leader of a team of professionals. It translated to his staff who sure seemed to respect themselves. It translated to respect for me as a customer. It all translated to great customer service and customer satisfaction.

Over my Diet Coke refill, I thought about my conversation with the kennel owner in Colorado. He had great self-respect; he respected what he did for a living, seeing it as special. He made sure his employees had the same values as his own. He insisted that those values were reflected in his staff and in their interactions with his customers.

Sadly, these two most recent experiences for me seem to be exception to the current rule. However, I think we can reinvent customer service in our organizations. It will begin with self-respect that is translated into respect for the customer.

“Leaders get what they expect and demand.”

The US Marine General, Chesty Puller was a leader and proud of it. He once said, “The most you are ever going to get from your Marines is the least you demand of them.” High expectations produce not just performance, high expectations produce self-respect. In both of the examples of great customer service I experienced and shared here, the attitude of the leader made the difference. We can change the customer service of the staff in our organizations by reinforcing our commitment to respecting our customers by treating them as something more than just a consumer of our products and services.




It simply isn’t appropriate for your business to treat customers as mere consumers. Treating them so causes them to feel –

  • Disrespected
  • Distrusting
  • Defensive

This isn’t good because Consumers –

  • See you as an object
  • Have no loyalty
  • Don’t refer prospective customers
  • Only care about the “cost” of what you provide

This dynamic does not reflect mutual respect. None of this is good for your business.

“What happens when there is no mutual respect … ”

Without respect customers –

  • Feel angry, judge and hurt
  • Become stuck in their response to your sales overture
  • Have difficulty listening to you
  • Withdraw or push back
  • Purchase only because of limited options
  • Won’t refer other potential customers
  • Will take their business elsewhere

“Promote Respect don’t undermine it.”

As a business, as an owner, or as the staff, we undermine “Respect” when we –

  • Are unprepared to assist the customer
  • Don’t actively listen to the customer for needs and expectations
  • Don’t demonstrate empathy
  • Push our agenda and not the agenda of the customer
  • Fail to follow through on our commitments
  • Don’t maintain contact after the sale

“Personal Mastery and the Six Principles of Respect”

I always like to talk about possibilities and probabilities. It is possible for businesses, owners, and staff to create great customer services grounded in self-respect and respect for others. It starts with a commitment to Personal Mastery. Personal Mastery is a term for being all that you can be. It is about being proud of everything you do and enjoying self-respect because you do it as well as it can possibly do it. You must want to be the best business owner, the best manager, or the best staff member you can possibly be. I ask, “Why wouldn’t you want to be the best you could be at whatever it is you do?” Even if what you are doing today is only waypoint on the journey to where you ultimately want to go, why not grant yourself the self-respect associated with doing it well until something better comes along. I wouldn’t know how to look someone in the eye with self-respect and say, “I once had a job that I thought was beneath me. I wasn’t very good at it and I didn’t try to be any good at it.” Moreover, I wonder how, in that job, feeling that way about myself, I could demonstrate respect for the customers I served.

As leaders, if only leaders of own Personal Mastery, we should know and understand the Six Principles of Respect –

  • Interest – Demonstrate genuine interest and curiosity in others
  • Empathy – Show understanding of and caring for others
  • Appreciate – Express sincere appreciation for others
  • Communicate – Listen, ask questions, and present information
  • Collaborate – Build empowering and invaluable partnerships
  • Competent – Provide expertise, knowledge and guidance

If as a business, a business owner, or staff within a business you will find that if you rigorously apply these principles you will see several powerful things happen –

  • Your work effort will take on new value for you
  • Your own self-respect will grow
  • You will enjoy increased respect for others
  • Others will respect you more
  • Your company’s customer service will improve
  • Bottom-line performance will improve