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Don’t Blame the Fish

I once heard Jerry Seinfeld say that the audience decides whether or not a joke is funny. The comedian can love the joke. He can believe in it and deliver it flawlessly, but if the audience doesn’t laugh, then guess what? It’s not funny and has to be cut from the routine.

That seems like a pretty solid philosophy for businesses to follow, too, doesn’t it? If the customer goes to the time and trouble to tell you that something isn’t working, you need to sit up and pay attention.

I got a letter in the mail the other day from my credit card company that informed me that, since I haven’t used my card in a while, they were closing my account. Don’t get me wrong. They have every right to do that. My problem was that I didn’t find out about it until they had already cancelled my card. If I had known about the problem, I could’ve rotated that card into use. I could’ve given them what they wanted and we both would have been happy.

So I called the credit card company and asked why I hadn’t been notified. The client services representative I spoke to immediately blamed the fish. “Oh, we always notify people before we close an account. You probably threw away our letter or ignored our email.” In other words, “We didn’t make a mistake. The blame is all on you, the customer.”

I really don’t think I missed the bank’s notification, but let’s say for the sake of this discussion that they were right, that I missed their notification. Instead of blaming the customer, wouldn’t it have been smarter to have a policy in place to re-engage the customer instead of alienating him?

How about “Oh, shoot! I hate that happened to you! Let’s see if there’s something we can do about it!”

One of the first rules of customer service is you should never blame the fish for not behaving. If the fish don‘t like what you‘re serving, you either need to change bait, vary your location, get some different equipment, or hire a guide. It never helps to gripe about how ignorant the fish are. It’s not their fault if they aren’t biting your bait.

Instead of blaming the fish for not biting, for not liking the quality or type of bait that you offer—instead of pointing your finger at them when something goes wrong—instead of insisting your product or service is flawless—the wise business person listens, evaluates, and adjusts.

But hey, maybe it’s just one picky fish. It’s entirely possible that you’ve run into one persnickety person that doesn’t like you or your product. But on the other hand, maybe, just maybe, there is something that the fish can teach you.

© 2019 Charles Marshall. Charles Marshall is a nationally known humorous motivational speaker and author. Visit his Web site  or contact him via e-mail at

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