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Catalytic Management

The Bronze Rule

Have you ever overheard a child turn an old axiom on its head and redefine it in the context of their environment?  At 6 years old, when confronted with a nasty play mate, my best friend and I would “give them back their nasty”. This quid pro quo turned the Golden Rule into “do unto them as they do unto you”.  My mother named this the “Bronze Rule” due to its ability to tarnish those who gave back the negativity they got.   Layoffs and the stress that causes are making the Bronze Rule all too evident in customer service these days.


I experienced the Bronze Rule recently when I tried to call the telephone company to question the bill for our cottage in Maine.  The bill had consistently gone up over the last three months despite the cottage being closed and the phone locked in the shed.  After waiting 18.6 minutes, (yes I timed it) to get someone on the line, I was told that the company’s files were not available and had not been for three weeks due to problems with the transfer of the files from the old telephone company.  “No, I don’t know when they’ll be available” was the response I received when I asked when could they examine my bill and give me an explanation.  Pick your jaw up off the floor – this is not an exaggeration!


As a customer service consultant, I felt compelled to ask her if she was having a bad day.  ”Bad day!  Lady, the new company laid off half the old staff, didn’t plan for how they were going to convert systems and they cut my hours”.  Guess who got the shaft that the company gave their employees – their customers!  This customer service rep gave her customers what she got from her employer – frustration and disrespect!


Tough economic times may require that you take tough action to cut costs and lay offs may be one of those options.  BUT… you need to consider the ramifications of those actions on your customers.   Here are some things you can do to protect your service quality despite staff reductions:

  • Restate the company’s focus on delivering great customer service
  • Restate your service standards to EVERYONE
  • Talk to your staff about why the layoffs are necessary
  • Work with the remaining staff to develop a  “service plan” in light of the loss of resources
  • Prioritize customer needs and focus on the ones that are most important to your customer
  • Create a service award program, or if you have one, add a new award to encourage and reward great service. (The Service Purple Heart, The Service Medal of Honor)
  • Talk openly about organizational and individual stress and ways to cope
  • Randomly select customers to call bi-monthly and ask about your service and how you can improve

You can’t afford to lose a single customer right now!  Lapses in service will drive away existing customers, tarnish your reputation and make it twice as hard to earn new customers now and in the future when the economy rebounds.  Replace the Bronze Rule with the Golden Rule!  Customer Service is and should be a competitive advantage!

P.S.  Despite my superhuman powers, I couldn't crawl through telephone lines and "slap her upside the head"   - I TRIED!  Failing that I filed a complaint with the Public Utilities Commision of Maine!  Your customers will also take action - they'll go to your competitors!

Hear Shelley speak:

March 19th

Institute of Management Consultants


March 20th

Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce


April 15th

York, ME  Chamber of Commerce


For detail visit our web site at:

New Articles by Shelley



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CEO Refresher Magazine

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Spring 2009

Chief Executive Officer Magazine

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Catalytic Management
67 Edgehill Road • Stow, MA 01775
Phone: 978-562-5001 • Web:

Catalytic Management specializes in business performance and growth consulting
including sales effectiveness, customer service and business process improvement for companies
in New England and the Northeast.
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