by Jarina D'Auria

Five Things John O’Hurley Has Learned About Customer Service

Feb 04, 20083 mins
IT Leadership

Seinfeld alum and businessman John O'Hurley talks about bad customer service and why IT must be responsive to the needs of internal and external customers

Actor, business owner and Seinfeld alum John O’Hurley puts his brand of humor to work teaching customer service in DVDs produced by his company, Evergreen Media.


Read “Your Customer Service Stinks” and “Learn Customer Service Principles from the Ritz”

As an entertainer, everybody is a potential customer. If I am discourteous to somebody in an airport, if I refuse an autograph, I will lose that person and never find him again. That knowledge helped inspire me to make customer service training programs.

Bad customer service is everywhere. Companies hide behind websites so we have no way to actually communicate with a human. It is getting to be such an exhaustive effort to talk to people. Any time I have to call a 1-800 number, my back bristles. I know I’m being outsourced to somebody who really doesn’t understand the company. And it happens every time.

You only have to do one wrong thing to lose a customer. I’ve learned that from my experience as part owner of the J. Peterman Company, which I got involved with after playing businessman J. Peterman on Seinfeld. If you only plan to sell to a customer once, you have a failed business plan. Repetition of a customer base is what grows business. Ford doesn’t want to sell you one car; they want you to be a Ford family. If they fail in the way they service their cars, you will never buy another car from them.

Bad technology leads to a mediocre customer experience. Customer experience is the essence of a brand, so all elements of the customer experience must exhibit excellence. In that regard, IT is an extension of customer service. IT departments must be responsive to the needs of internal and external customers. Unfortunately, oftentimes they’re not—resulting in frustration from employees and inefficiencies throughout the organization. Yet exemplary IT capabilities are a competitive weapon and a means of differentiation from competitors. At Wal-Mart, for example, they have some of the most sophisticated IT systems in the world for inventory management. This capability ensures they have the right product shipped on time, to any store in the world.

If people laugh, they will remember what you are trying to teach them. Humor works better than if you try to nail people over the head with seriousness. Not a single celebrity has done anything in the business communications industry since Monty Python’s John Cleese sold his instructional video company back in the 90s. Everything is outdated and unfunny. No one is producing programs with Hollywood production values and in an easy-to-learn way.