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The Last Customer

by Rich Gallagher, Point of Contact Group

What if you had one simple rule – for you and your support team – that would guarantee excellent service? I recently completed a new business fable (stay tuned!), with a charming story that was based around just such a rule. Here it is:

Treat every customer like they were your very last customer.

That's it. No policy manuals. No committees. No balanced scorecards. Just one simple rule that clarifies all of your actions and all of your policies, now and in the future. A compass that will always point you on the shortest path toward success and profitability. And a guiding principle you can teach everyone on your team in less than five minutes.

Think about the last time a company said, "Sorry, we can't help you," even though you both knew better. Or a disengaged store clerk acted like she was a million miles away as she rang up your purchase. Or a restaurant that wouldn't allow substitutions, or a credit card company with Byzantine and inflexible service policies. Did they treat you like you were their last customer? Or was this simply the last time they ever saw you as a customer?

You see, when you realize that your success depends on each and every person who interacts with you, physically or virtually, you learn to manage these moments of truth so that everyone wins. Think about scenarios like these:

  • It is the end of a long day, and the next customer comes on the line. If he were potentially your very last customer, would you greet this person warmly? Thank him for contacting you? Call him by the name he gives you? Or would you treat him like you're off in another zip code somewhere?
  • Your customer needs a little something extra: a special order, a rush delivery, or perhaps just a bit more of your time. If she were your very last customer, would you say "no" to her?
  • Someone has a complaint about your product or service. If he were your last customer, would you try to make him happy, or point him toward a lengthy policy statement and turn away?
  • You are looking for ways to save money and run more efficiently, and one of your managers suggests an onerous new RMA policy. Would you impose it on your very last customer?

In each of these situations, you don't even have to think about what to do. Start seeing people as your last customers, and your gut will take over and tell you what's right. This rule puts customers firmly in the driver's seat, with an extremely simply choice: Treat them fairly and they will be back. Serve them well and they will lead other customers to you. Brush them off, and watch your entire business walk out the door forever.

The last customer rule even helps you set appropriate boundaries. If your very last customer were someone who harassed your agents or misused your return policies, would you still try to keep this customer? Not likely. By looking at everyone through the lens of being your last customer, you gain a laser-beam focus on what is really important to you, your team, and your business, and then draw those lines where they should be drawn.

Today's reality is that we live in a world of connections. People tell their friends what they like, and statistically tell even more of them what they don't like. And with the global reach of online social networks, they are just a mouse click away from praising or trashing you to thousands or even millions of people. This is why seeing them as your last customer is so important: with one person, you now have the power to attract an entire community, or shut down their whole network.

Start treating everyone like your last customer, starting tomorrow, and great service will not only become much more likely – it will become the "last" of your concerns. Good luck and best of success!

About the Author
Rich Gallagher is a communications skills expert and former customer support executive who heads the Point of Contact Group, a training and development firm based in Ithaca, NY. His book What to Say to a Porcupine: 20 Humorous Tales that Get to the Heart of Excellent Customer Service (AMACOM, 2008) was a national #1 customer service bestseller and finalist for the 800-CEO-READ's 2008 Business Book of the Year, and his latest book How to Tell Anyone Anything (AMACOM, 2009) explores the mechanics of difficult workplace conversations. Visit Rich online at