People want to get the most out of what they pay for. Companies and entire economies rise and fall based on customer confidence and loyalty. If a customer sees a solid, dependable product that delivers on its promises, they’ll use it continually and recommend it to others. Pretty simple concept, right?

Say your company manufactures widgets. If the widgets develop problems in the course of manufacture, most responsible companies will assume responsibility for the problems and get them fixed. After they leave the widget factory, however, it’s down to the customer not to abuse them. If you cram your widget between two sprockets the widget wasn’t designed to interact with, you’re going to have problems and you’ll call the manufacturer. This is where customer service comes into play.

You need to be able to understand the position your customer has found themselves in. That means letting them talk, rant, yell, even curse if necessary. Better to remind them that profanity won’t solve their problem than simply to hang up. You also can’t put a time limit on a customer service call. I worked for a company that did that, and it severely diminished the quality of the service delivered. The technicians on the phone were clearly more concerned about a quick, easy answer that ended the call before the cut-off time than they were discovering the root of the problem and solving it entirely, which would prevent future, more exasperated calls. But company policies are company policies, no matter how wrong they might seem, and when you go against them, you risk your job. I tried to stand up for my principles rather than kowtowing to an unrealistic expectation, and unsurprisingly I was fired for it.

It seems to me that a balance should be struck between the value of one’s employees, the quality of one’s product, and the experience of the customer. If you set out to hire good people, you’ll want to keep them happy in order to retain their services. If you have a product in mind with the intent to make it better than the competition’s offering, you should have the courage to stand behind it. When a customer comes to you with a request, they will respect you if you work with them to make their vision fit your product.

If you instead make your product fit their vision, all you’re really doing is bending over for them. You can only bend so far before something breaks. If you sacrifice the qualities of your products that make them unique, and instead do the same thing as everybody else out there, you won’t stand out, and your product will eventually be lost in the herd of bleating sheep that is the industry of your choice. Letting the customer bend you over and allowing your product to become someone else’s plaything isn’t very fair to your employees, either, and if you’re not taking care of them with things like competitive salaries and decent benefits, you will lose them.

Without good employees, the quality of your products will suffer. When the quality of your products suffer, your customers will be unsatisfied. Unsatisfied customers look for other places to spend their money. It certainly seems like a straightforward chain of causes and effects from the outside.

My point is, good customer service doesn’t begin with your customers, or your employees, or even your products. It begins with you.