When Great Customer Service Means Sending the Customer Elsewhere

The best thing the customer needs might be something you don’t have

Cindy S. Cheung
Jul 10, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

brother stormed into the house. He ripped his work bag off his back and seethed.

“Why the hell did he have to contract with these $%#& idiots?!”

His management apparently outsourced part of his project to a boutique consulting firm in the area. When I asked him what’s going on, he couldn’t give me details, but he described the collaboration this way:

It’s like this. You walk into an ice cream shop and ask the clerk for strawberry ice cream. He complies, but because he doesn’t have strawberry ice cream, he hands you chocolate instead. You think maybe he misheard you, so you repeat and correct him that you had asked for strawberry, not chocolate. The clerk then informs you that he doesn’t have strawberry. He has chocolate. Here, take it.

At that moment, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I used to work for a company that didn’t asset its resources or business model to see whether a solution could be possible, would overpromise, or make unnecessary compromises that didn’t completely solve the customers’ problems. Then for the sake of growth and revenue, it would somehow convince its customers that its solution was what they needed.

Let’s just say that I left that company because it didn’t reflect my values.

And now my brother — as the customer of a consulting firm — was expressing his frustrations because of those kinds of absurd standards.

The Sketchy Solutions

Apple. Amazon. Away. Bonobos. All innovative companies that thrive on ground-breaking inventions.

They thrive because they spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of market research, observations, and roleplay. They are visionaries who use their imagination to identify problems that most people don’t.

More simply put, these companies help people identifying the real problem and, therefore, offer real solutions.

Sadly, that’s also the most misconstrued justification misused by wannabes.

The issue is every company wants to be that company. It wants to be that company that solves everyone’s problems even when the customers actually do know the real problem and the real solution. Then these companies propose solutions when they have not assessed whether their manpower, their equipment, their infrastructure, or their knowledge can do so.

So they work their employees to the bone just to improvise.

I argue, however, that improvisation only satisfies customers who don’t know what they want or need. And even then, the solution will be short-term until the customers realize they need a better solution.

Customers who do know exactly what they want or need go outside for solutions because they know someone else can solve their problems better and/or cheaper than they can do themselves.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies claim to be that someone else when in actuality, they are not. They deliver solutions that may solve part of the problem, if at all.

If you started a construction business but you don’t have a vehicle, you wouldn’t want a car salesman to insist you buy a passenger van because he is out of trucks, would you? You would go to a different dealership.

The Fulfilling Solutions

Let’s replay that scenario again.

You go to the car dealership looking for a truck. Sadly, the salesman informs you that you wouldn’t be able to buy a truck for months. Now, would you rather he offer you a passenger van or a referral to another dealership that does have the truck you want?

I know what my answer is. What’s yours?

Even if you can’t buy a vehicle from him this time around, wouldn’t you consider him when someone you know needs to buy a passenger van because he has your best interest in mind?

And if I were the car salesman, sure, I might have lost the sale of one vehicle, but I would have potentially gain more than one long-term customer.

Sometimes you have to lose some to win more.

The Real Reasoning Behind All This

It’s not about not wanting to serve the customer.

It’s not about not wanting to face challenges or stretch one’s abilities.

It’s not about being unconfident in one’s own skills, knowledge, or resources.

It’s about providing the customer the best solution possible even if I cannot be the one to provide it.

When I know in my mind and heart that someone else — even a competitor — has the resources to create a solution that better, faster, or cheaper than I can, sometimes the best thing to do is direct the customer to the right company, even if it means losing business because not only will it is possible for that business to return with a problem that I can solve, but also it is possible that business might refer other businesses to work with me.

This shows authenticity, humility, and confidence in truly knowing who I am. And customers respect that.

It doesn’t mean I cannot learn and gain the knowledge and resources to create the best solution in the near future. It just means I cannot provide it right now.

For those of you who think all this is nonsense, I am not the only one who believed this. It is the hallmark of the 5 Laws of Stratospheric Success created by Bob Burg and John David Mann, authors of The Go-Giver.

The Go-Giver Series by Bob Burg and John David Mann

If that still doesn’t uphold my argument, think about how this works for relationships.

Relationships: Closing

Remember that crush or one-sided relationship you had? Did he or she ended up fall for someone else?

Most relationship experts, family, and friends probably told you to accept it, be happy for him/her, let him/her go, and move on. It’s healthier and would eventually open you up to new, better love.

But how many of us — myself included — just couldn’t let go emotionally and clung to him/her, trying to prevent the person from leaving?

Did that ever work out for you? It didn’t for me.

Replace that person with a customer in a business setting.

Do you think the customers will think highly of you and your company if you demand they stay with you when you know you can’t completely satisfy their needs?

I think not.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Join The Startup’s +792K followers.

Sign up for Top 10 Stories

By The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Subscribe to receive The Startup's top 10 most read stories — delivered straight into your inbox, once a week. Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Cindy S. Cheung

Written by

Data Analyst. Screenwriter. Project Manager. Now, Resume Coach. A student of life and West Coast Swing. A promoter of self from within.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +792K followers.

Cindy S. Cheung

Written by

Data Analyst. Screenwriter. Project Manager. Now, Resume Coach. A student of life and West Coast Swing. A promoter of self from within.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +792K followers.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store