Where Does Customer Service Start?

I reflect on each day to find one lesson I learned from it. Then I share each lesson on this blog.


Nicole and I live in a beautiful apartment complex. The grounds are well-maintained, our apartments have premium fixtures, we have a great veranda, and the community has outstanding facilities, like a resort-style pool and full workout areas with Yoga props, boxing bags, and more. All that is great but we can barely wait to move out.

Despite all the amenities and premium features, the company that owns it seems absolutely clueless (or remarkably careless) about their customer experience. As long as nothing goes wrong, it is a fine place to live. As soon as you have a problem (such as sprinkler heads breaking through the ceiling or the apartment rent payment portal being down), it is as if the management company races to show you how bad they can perform.

No matter how nice the polish is, if you stand on a rusty, deteriorating foundation then you will not be standing for long.

What really struck me today, though, was that I realized this philosophy of poor customer experience was not incidental. I thought surely someplace putting so much attention to detail on the grounds and interior must just be suffering from a rash of bad hiring or training practices. No company culture could be so dysfunctional that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of how to please customers at the root of their business.

Then I looked at the parking lot. Directly in front of our building, there is one available parking space. The other parking spaces are across the road or in front of the adjacent building (and there are only 3 spots in front of that building). There are three floors to the apartment building, which means everyone on the second or third floor have quite a long haul each week when they do things like unload groceries or have furniture delivered. (Incidentally there is no elevator, either, causing many of our packages to be dropped at our downstairs neighbor’s doorstep–an astounding feat of laziness by our UPS driver–but I don’t blame him for the apartment’s bad design).

The point about the parking lot is this: when there is only one decent parking spot, it creates a sadistic rush among tenants to secure and hold onto that spot. When you pull into the complex with 8 bags of groceries and you see that spot is taken (it’s always taken), you can not help but curse under your breath. Worse, you start paying attention to who holds the spot the most and begin questioning the fairness of the parking situation.

It is silly to stress over a single parking spot each day. And yet… that is the experience our apartment is literally built upon.

As a brand, company, or even just a team within your organization, when you start by encouraging your customers to hate each other, how can you expect them to love you? (Call centers with infuriatingly long hold times… I’m looking at you…)

Understanding that customer service starts even before a customer pulls into your parking lot is a good place to begin thinking about how your customer’s experience will end (in a blog post ratting you out or in a recommendation to a friend?).