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I've followed Chip Bell's books on customer service for many years now. I always love the quick and powerful stories he shares. They provide timely cases for use with my clients.

He recently wrote Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About It. In it he describes just how lethal poor customer service can be in a digital age.

One of his stories is of blogger Heather Armstrong. After receiving what she felt was very poor customer service from Maytag, she wrote a two-word recommendation to her more than 1 million Twitter followers —"Boycott Maytag." The next day she got call from one of the Maytag executives and her problem was solved. But not before the brand took a hit.

I looked up the story after reading it in Bell's book and found there was a healthy debate as to whether or not Armstrong's action was responsible. People came down on both sides of the issue. However, something there was no debate about was that customers have more power than ever.

Bell and his co-author, John Paterson, offer many considerations for disarming your customers and ensuring better service in digital age. Below are 3 questions I found to be particularly useful. If you can't answer yes to these questions, you're doing a poor job of disarming your customers.

  1. Does your self-service channel have a backdoor exit so customers can reach a live person?
  2. Are your processes designed with and for the customer ... not, just for the benefit of the organization?
  3. Is your service recovery done effectively and empathetically enough that it spawns a positive story your customers can't wait to tell? Healing a broken relationship is just as important as fixing the customer's problem.

"If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends." —Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO,

Doug Sundheim is an executive coach & organizational consultant focusing on leadership and strategy execution. His book on smart risk-taking is due out next year. You can find him at and follow him on twitter @DougSundheim.