Yep, you read that right. Don’t question a thing. I’m about to tell you that what you’re doing, what you think is so great, is only average. So, sit back in your big leather chair, gaze out your corner office window and say to yourself, “That’s right, I’m a winner! I’m king of the world. I’m the big cheese,” because I’m about to prove you wrong and send your chair spinning.

Sure, you created a brand, you service customers, you make a profit; by all accounts you’ve made it right? Wrong. You’re there for right now but it’s up to how you communicate that will keep you there in the future. How are you going to stay there if you rest on what you did yesterday?

Every single day businesses make fundamental errors in judgment when it comes to customer service, providing said service and communicating clearly and constructively with their customers and vendors.

What follows are three examples of how to be just average:

1. Believing that using technology makes you better. In fact, this does not make you better; it just makes it more visible that you are average.

Case in point: I flew to the Bahamas last week on vacation and had purchased my tickets on Expedia. Upon my return to the USA I arrived at the airport and found out I didn’t have a reservation (even though I had clearly paid for one with receipt in-hand to prove it). I came to find out Expedia sold me a route on Continental Airlines that no longer exists (and hadn’t for months). Thus, I didn’t really have a solid reservation (neither did my wife and two small kids). Not fun! Continental figured it out and got me home (thanks, Continental), but then Expedia did exactly what I mentioned above. They used technology (in this case Twitter) to make visible just how average they are.

Shortened Transcript of my Conversation with Expedia:

@sparkerjr: “Thx @expedia for screwing up my flight home from the Bahamas with 2 kids, you made the end not fun.”

@expedia: sorry to hear that please DM us with your itinerary# and descrip of what happened.

@sparkerjr: my trip was from MHH to WPB to CLT to CHS. Airline didn’t have record of my flights. Itinerary #0ABCXYZ0.

@expedia: thanks for the information, we’ll pass along to customer care.

@sparkerjr: when should I expect a response?

@expedia: we will let you know if we get an update regarding your case.

And that’s where it ended. You may say, well they responded to you, Steve. You should be happy. True, they responded, as they should. I paid for customer service when I bought my tickets through Expedia. But they have not communicated to me anything of value in my customer service experience. My expectation was clear in my last message, “When should I expect a response?” Their last message failed me. The elephant in the room is the word “IF”—“IF we get an update.” They left me wondering if average was their best.

You hear in social media circles all the time to ‘be a listening brand’ and I’ll agree – Expedia is listening, but they are not clearly communicating. What’s more important is to communicate clearly with your customers and meet their expectations especially when their inquiries are basic and reasonable. A simple “in 24, 48 hrs or 2 weeks” would have sufficed. Instead Expedia chose to be average.

IF we get an update = average.

2. Thinking your customers are happy. The reality is that in this day of information access there is someone who will very likely treat your customers better, service them faster and possibly cheaper – or your customer may be someone like me and simply be willing to pay a little more to get better service.

Case in point: My company spent approximately $9 million dollars on our American Express cards last year. AMEX treats us really well, but they don’t rely on thinking we will simply be around next year. They involve us in educational events, they call us and they email us to check in on needs – every month. Meanwhile, the bank we had used for the past seven years (a bank that wanted us to use Visa all the time) in which we have many more millions deposited at any given moment and have invested in a number of CD’s, etc…rarely, if ever, called us and rarely, if ever, checked except with a problem.

Guess who recently got replaced? It’s not that we wanted to change, we were just left without options. We didn’t have that feeling of satisfaction (they never communicated with us anything of value). We needed a bank focused on our needs. A bank willing to go beyond just holding our money and using us as a source of it. We didn’t expect the world, we just wanted a partner that cared and would communicate that they wanted to improve upon our business needs. (see Partnerships: It’s About Building Relationships article on ASQ)

Don’t assume your customers are happy – know that they’re happy. How do you know? You ask! You communicate and you let them know they are important by listening to their concerns and needs. That doesn’t mean you provide for ALL those needs, but you let them know which needs you can fulfill. It’s important to communicate.

Special Note: Studies have shown time and time again that the cost to acquire a new customer are 5 – 10X the amount to retain a current one.Seriously, stop and re-read that last sentence. It is that important.

3. Failing to realize you’re treating your customers like second class citizens.

Many businesses treat their best customers like second class citizens without even realizing it.  Offering 50% off the first order for “new customers” is a slap in the face to your best and most loyal customers. Offering $100 cash back or a free flight to a new customer while charging your best and most frequent customers full rate without any bonus is merit-less.

In fact, and this is humorous because I know you too have experienced the same, here’s a common scenario: You’re a customer of a business but you receive an email, snail mail or call from that business asking you to become a customer and if you do they will give you X. “Ummm, I’m already a customer, can I still get X?” you ask. Their answer, “No.” Of course not, you’re not a “new customer.” This is a huge failure because…

a) The brand has just created a relationship with the new customer based on a gimmick and,

b) They’ve managed to also alienate their best customer.

How does this make any sense even in the most bizarre world? I’m a big fan of Seth Godin and in one of his latest blog posts he wrote:

“If you define “best customer” as the customer who pays you the most, then I guess it’s not surprising that the reflex instinct is to charge them more. After all, they’re happy to pay.

But what if you define “best customer” as the person who brings you new customers through frequent referrals and who sticks with you through thick and thin? That customer, I think, is worth far more than what she might pay you in any one transaction. In fact, if you think of that customer as your best marketer instead, it might change everything.”

Well said Seth, as always. Thank you for the contribution.

Clearly, none of us want our businesses to be average, but if you want to be better you have to begin Asking Smarter Questions and challenge what you believe to be right – don’t simply trust everything on instinct, challenge things and get a partner to help you create that challenge. It is not easy to tackle all these issues at once. But to eat an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time.

I’d appreciate your feedback and response below, or via Twitter @sparkerjr.