Forget CSAT and get hands-on with your customers

Dylan Bland
7 min readDec 4, 2023


At Mighty Ape we found that being on the front line helping customers was among the very best things we could do to improve our overall business. It wasn’t enough to know our CSAT score, or to learn “90% of customers rate us highly” — meaningless numbers that provided no actionable information on what’s going wrong and how we could improve. A warm-fuzzy for the website or a monthly update — but not a mindset that’s going to help customers who are slipping through the cracks and taking their business elsewhere.

Part of my role was leading the Customer Service team and ensuring customers were always considered first when building our front-end website, delivery services and scaling our warehouse operations. This meant going beyond the numbers and looking at and replying to customer ZenDesk tickets, mentoring our teams on what great service looks like online, and shaping our policies and practices to align with our core values. I absolutely loved it. While I’d argue that everyone at Mighty Ape works in service (marketing, product management, warehouse), when we handed over the reins of the CS team itself, we offered real-time Live Chat support, fast replies over email, and a reception desk at HQ where customers could seek help in-person 7 days a week.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a start-up or a corporate, a retailer or a SaaS provider, a restaurant or motel operator — if you’re a founder or an owner, there’s a lot to be gained by putting yourself on the front-lines for as long as possible, and being the bridge between your customers and the teams you hire to look after them. Here’s a few reasons why…

Get yourself some great stories

Of course data is great, but it never reveals the whole picture and it means different things to different people. Great stories on the other hand are universally understood, and importantly, help to motivate and drive action in others. Here’s an example from Mighty Ape. Imagine receiving a report that tells you 98.5% of customer orders placed yesterday were shipped on time. Awesome! Sounds great, right? Well, not really — not when you realise one of those 150 unlucky customers emailed in with a message along the lines of…

“Hey Mighty Ape — I’ve placed dozens of orders with you before, and usually they’re delivered without a hitch. Not today. I ordered some LEGO for my son’s birthday and I chose you guys because it was listed as in-stock and delivered tomorrow. Well, it never arrived and now I have a really disappointed 12 year old. I should have just driven to the mall. Questioning whether I’ll shop with you guys again, especially for anything last-minute as you didn’t even communicate. Any tips on how I should explain this to my son?!?”

We‘ve heard justifications of scenarios like this along the lines of “anyone who leaves online shopping to the last minute is crazy” but that’s a terrible attitude — especially when you’re trying to encourage people out of their cars and away from the malls. Luckily, not wanting to ruin a kid’s Christmas is motivation enough for most Mighty Apers to go the extra mile. So why didn’t this order ship? Was the stock data incorrect? Could the book not be found in the warehouse? Had the warehouse team left work for the day? Was the NZ Post truck full to the brim? Do they need to send a bigger truck tomorrow? Of course it may be too late for this particular customer, but finding the answers to these questions and motivating the team to implement a solution will ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to the next customer, or the one after that. 98.5% sounds pretty good as a headline number, until you or someone you care about becomes the unlucky 1.5%. Ultimately in business, as in life, you get what you settle for and we’d argue it’s not worth settling for 98.5% when 100% is achievable — so learn to tell a great story.

Use your special influence to create super fans

Company owners who choose to get involved with Customer Service, especially in the early days, have a rare opportunity to create super fans and win customers for life. Owners are in the unique position to bend policies without question, create all-new policies, get answers to difficult questions quickly, and generally just do whatever it takes to fix something or put something right. When customers realise they’re dealing with someone with this kind of influence — it creates the very real understanding that being “customer centric” is more than just a cool tagline. Stories where customers interact with owners are remembered and often repeated to friends and family around the dinner table. And as a customer, it’s also kinda cool to know that your problem, while frustrating at the time, was identified and solved for the future benefit of all customers. You helped make the service better for everyone!

Personally I found solving short-term problems for customers, while also working with the various teams to find long-term solutions, to be far and away the most satisfying work I ever did at Mighty Ape. Working in Customer Service led to countless fixes and improvements that ultimately led to customers getting their orders delivered faster, emails replied to faster, products arriving without damage, repairs being processed faster and everything in between.

Set a high standard for others

The first of Mighty Ape’s core values is “Put customers first. Win them for life” and anyone working directly in Customer Service is provided with the best opportunity to live these values out in practice every day. We viewed our customers as a defensive moat — the first line against Amazon, The Warehouse, PB, JB and any other business working hard to tempt disgruntled or unhappy customers away from Mighty Ape.

As with any online business operating at scale, our goal was to create a completely frictionless ordering system, where customers could have cool products delivered to their door without having to leave the comfort of their couch — certainly without picking up the phone or sending an email. Opportunities to interact with customers one-on-one were therefore few and far between, and it’s usually when things went wrong!

What better opportunity is there to lead from the front and turn unhappy customers into raving fans, than working in Customer Service?

  • Speaking to a customer who’s questioning when their order might arrive? Give them a free upgrade to same-day delivery and tell them it’ll be there tonight.
  • Speaking to a customer who made a mistake and ordered an incompatible accessory for their phone? Case or charger doesn’t fit? Tell them it happens to the best of us — and send them the correct charging cable free of charge.
  • Customer buys a TV and it’s dead on arrival — doesn’t power up and has a recorded video to prove it. Send a replacement immediately and get the faulty TV back for repair when it’s convenient for the customer.
  • …you get the idea.

As you go through life it’s funny how some of the best customer service stories we remember often start with a disaster of some kind that’s quickly put right in a way we didn’t expect. The complimentary meal at a restaurant when the service was slow and the kids were playing up. The free upgrade to a fancier suite when your room wasn’t ready at the stated check-in time. The tradesman who turns up on a Saturday to catch-up work that was promised on a Friday. Owners working in Customer Service are uniquely positioned to blow customers away with service and set the bar higher for the rest of the team. It allows us to lead through values not policies. People naturally look to “their boss” for how they should act. At Mighty Ape, I cannot recall a single example of a team member ever being “told off” for being too generous to a customer — but I can think of a few times where I think we could have gone further.

Impossible to bury the bad stuff

Modern Customer Service tools and CRMs provide instant access to real-time customer feedback — you know the drill, “how do you rate our service? Please click the link and let us know!”

My advice to owners?

Filter: Negative Reviews Only
Sort: Newest At The Top

This is where the gold is buried.

Sure, assuming things are going well, the overwhelming majority of feedback is going to be positive, and we’d certainly recommend sharing that generously to boost team morale. But it doesn’t necessarily help teams improve or do better, and can have the opposite effect when complacency sets in.

We would share the best examples of service to recognise the awesome impact our teams were having on customers, and to ensure new team members were aiming high. But we’d spend more time examining the negative feedback. This wouldn’t be shared publicly, and it certainly wasn’t to name and shame, but rather to highlight areas we needed to improve. We also adopted a “systems mindset” and focused on training that needed to be strengthened, IT systems that needed a tweak, and identifying policies that were no longer achieving our objectives.

Looking at negative feedback sparked all kinds of questions: “What happened here?” “Do we need to give Jungle drivers fewer parcels so they finish on time” “Do we need to remind drivers to leave packages under cover when it’s raining? Is this in the Driver manual?” “Is stock data broken? This product was showing as in-stock but the order didn’t ship” “Does the fraud prevention software need a tweak? This customer has placed over 50 orders but their order was flagged as fraud and was held up.” “Why didn’t we send a replacement product to this customer? Are we leaning too heavily on our Returns policy and forgetting our Core Values?” “This customer is really unhappy with the quality of this product. Did we inform the product manager or the buying team? Should we check the other units in the warehouse and potentially stop stocking this product?”

Jumping in and helping any given customer is a thrill — but the real win is fixing the system that caused the problem in the first place. Being an owner and having direct access to this information is a powerful way to drive improvements across teams and the wider business, and counts for so much more than automated reports and CSAT numbers.

As we enter the age of AI chatbots and emerging technologies that provide faster and more affordable ways to service customers without humans — perhaps it’s more important than ever for owners to remain the bridge between customers and the teams who work in the service of them.



Dylan Bland

Love web, gaming, cars, business, politics and philosophy. Formerly @MightyApe and no clue what's next. Live in Auckland, New Zealand.