A customer sets up an appointment a week in advance with his cable TV provider to upgrade his service. The day arrives but no installer. The company tells him they’re sorry, but they won’t be able to get someone out to him until at least the following week.

That doesn’t sit well with the customer, who’s rearranged his work schedule to be home on this day and at this time. The service rep politely repeats a set of canned responses, apologizing for the inconvenience, which only further infuriates the customer. Finally, he angrily threatens to cancel his service, at which point the service reps asks him to hold, then comes back on the line and informs him an installer is on their way to his house that afternoon.

The lost cable installer who misses a scheduled appointment. The disgruntled flight attendant who takes out her frustrations with her employer on the passengers she serves. The heavily accented foreign-based help desk rep who reads unhelpful replies from a script but can’t think outside the box.

We’ve all experienced situations like these, probably more times than we’d care to remember. The companies are often household names—brands we’ve been involved with for years or even decades. We may love and want these products, but each interaction with their customer service team erodes brand equity and makes us wonder why on earth we don’t look elsewhere for an alternative solution.

Here’s the sad part. A trained observer could see most of these train wrecks long before they ever ran off the tracks…if anyone took the time to look for the signs. Even more importantly, most of these meltdowns could be de-escalated or perhaps totally avoided with proper preventive behavior.

There are two factors at play here: customers and employees. While many organizations place increasing focus on knowing and targeting their customers, they often don’t put in the time and effort to train and empower their employees. It’s critical to know what’s necessary to ensure that interactions with customers help build long-term relationships, not destroy them.

Five Steps To Better Customer Service

For better or worse, employees raise the volume on the messages you release into the marketplace. Here are five actions you can take to ensure that’s what heard in the marketplace is what you intended to say:

1. Recognize The Key Role Employees Play In Your Marketing

It’s not just the salesperson or customer service rep. Everyone—from the receptionist to the doorman to the technician behind the scene that keeps the website running—is critical to your marketing efforts. Employees need to understand and internalize the key messages in your marketing initiatives. They need to understand what your brand stands for and how their actions build brand strength.

2. Engage Employees Proactively

Don’t wait until your customer is on the verge of a thermonuclear meltdown or your employee is ready to push the button to make the explosion happen. Make sure your employees know what’s expected of them during customer service interactions from the outset. Ask for their input when designing new products and services. Enlist their help in changing processes and procedures that add to customer frustration.

3. Empower Employees To Throw Out The Script

It’s fine to start with a sample set of responses to typical customer situations, but be sure employees feel empowered to diverge from the script and respond appropriately. Take new employees through sample customer service scenarios. Encourage them to explore new ways of looking at situations and helping customers solve problems. Encourage creativity and originality.

4. Build A Culture That Recognizes And Retells The Stories Of Employee Exemplars

Every organization has tales and folklore—about the corporate founders or occasions when key corporate values were brought to the fore. Find employees who exemplify the best practices you want emulated. Don’t just recognize them publicly—tell the stories of how they saved the day, went above and beyond, or did something just plain crazy that made the difference for a customer. Then make sure these stories are told again and again until they become part of your folklore and your culture.

5. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

What gets measured, gets managed. Compensation and recognition drive behavior. All the talk in the world about building exceptional customer experiences doesn’t matter when employees are compensated on the number of calls answered per hour or the speed, not the quality, of problem resolution. Decide what type of employee/customer service engagement is important and ensure that’ that’s what gets rewarded.

With all the noise in the marketplace today, it’s hard enough for organizations to be heard and stand out. How your customer-facing employees amplify or distort those messages can be the difference in whether or not your business stays on track to continued success.