I'm part of an online networking organization of entrepreneurs, large and small, from all over the world. Years ago, one of the members was talking about a problem he’d been having with his phone service, which was being provided to him by one of the new voiceover Internet protocol companies. He mentioned how he had given them every opportunity to correct the problem for about two months, then finally decided it was time to change to a different service.

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He then ended up spending another two months trying to discontinue the service, but kept having difficulty because the customer service people obviously had been told to go out of their way to not let anyone cancel their contract. He eventually had to use some extreme measures to get the service canceled, which included the threat of reporting them to the SEC, as he was someone who had some pretty high business connections. They finally not only canceled the service, but issued him a refund for the last two months that he’d been forced to keep the service.

What was odd about the conversation is that not only did more than half the people who responded to him believe that he'd been too harsh, but they thought he should have worked with customer service to try to solve his problems even more. I found that amazing, because I couldn’t believe how far we seemed to have come to allow those who we purchase services from to not give us the satisfaction we rightly deserve. This guy wasn’t asking for special bells and whistles; he just wanted equipment that worked, and he couldn’t even get a technician to come back to his house to try to figure out what his problem might be.

This particular conversation was followed the next day by my wife and I going out for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants at the time. When the food came, my meal was barely warm. She asked me if I wanted to ask them to heat it up, and I hesitated. Then she asked me if I was willing to settle for less than what I wanted. She got that line from a newsletter written by a friend of mine named Kelvin Ringold, who wrote on the theme of having to settle for something less than what he’d really wanted, and how unsatisfying that was.

It’s the kind of thing we don’t often think about, yet it happens to us on an almost daily basis. We tend to settle for things we shouldn’t, both personally and professionally, and in turn we might think others should settle for what we give them.

Maybe in our personal lives it’s not always such a critical thing. If I’m at the grocery store and I ask for half a pound of turkey, and they give me just over or under that half a pound, have I been given bad service? I don't think so. But if I’ve gone to a particular fast food restaurant and asked for something specific, and I realize after I’ve left the establishment that they got the order wrong, how apt will I be to want to go back to that same place again? At work, if someone has been given an assignment that must be done today, how pleased should I be if I find out that not only wasn’t it done, but it’s not even halfway completed?

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It’s the kind of thing I see as a consultant, though I’m not complaining much because without it I’d be out of business. People show up at work every day, not with the intention of really giving it their best, but giving whatever it is they feel they can give for that day. One day that person might work like gangbusters; the next day, that same person might give you a few hours worth of real work.

Understanding that there has to be a balance in life, even at the workplace, we should all expect that every once in a while we all give less than one hundred percent. However, it shouldn’t be the norm, because if that’s the case, your business will surely fall apart at some juncture, and you’ll be left wondering what happened. As much as it doesn’t pay to push people beyond sensible expectations, it’s also not wise to accept less than what’s reasonable either.

I have a friend who used to own a gift basket company. Not only were her products great, but she had customer service down to a science. I ordered gift baskets many times from her. Each time I ordered something I got an immediate email response detailing my order after I put it through, even if it was by phone. Within 15 minutes, I'd receive a follow up thank you message from her website.

The next day I receive another email telling me my package had been delivered. A few days after that, in the mail, I got a copy of the written cash register receipt, along with a letter thanking me for the purchase and a flyer highlighting specials she would be offering for upcoming holidays. A week after my order, I receive another email, this time personal, asking me how my wife had enjoyed the gift basket I'd purchased for her. Talk about feeling special! Why wouldn’t I think of her first the next time I wanted to make a special purchase?

No matter what your business is, or what your position within a company is, you need to think of everything you do during the day as if you’re providing good customer service to someone else. Even if you're self employed, it’s not always about you. Without the “customer”, you won’t have a living to worry about.

The best mindset to have is to give people more than what you'd want for yourself. If you want people to jump at your every whim, you must jump even more when taking care of your customer. If you’re kind of laid back and willing to accept a few mistakes here and there, you need to make sure you provide the kind of “customer service” that’s just a step above what you’d accept for yourself.

Consultants in general get a bad name because most people think they come in, point out problems that everyone already knows, and don’t give any real working solutions. To this end, I’ve made sure that every assignment I take on, I give them more than what they’ve asked for, because I not only want to be remembered fondly, but because that’s how I’m able to provide my best customer service to them. The last long term project I left, they threw me a going away party; how many consultants do you hear that about?

Just how hard can giving good customer service really be, no matter where it is? If you’re worth it, isn’t everybody worth it?