When it comes to customer service, everyone has a story: the airline attendant who had no record of your seat assignment; the restaurant server who forgot you were allergic to walnuts; the telephone rep who swore at you when you called to check on an overdue order.

These stories are fun to tell but infuriating to live through. Certainly, examples of bad service have been easy to come by for years but after awhile, you start to wonder why so many of us are fuming at front-line employees everywhere. After all, we live in a society that devotes billions of dollars to getting us what we want and need as cheaply and efficiently as possible. We also live in a society with corporations who have "The customer is number one" in their mission statement mounted on the wall for every employee to view.

Yet lately, service actually seems to be getting worse. Many believe the crux of the problem is the difficulty in finding and hiring quality people to fill front-line jobs. The U.S. labor shortage is acute at all employment levels, but especially for entry-level customer service jobs. My clients complain that when they interview applicants, most are marginal and often people don't know the first thing about manners, let alone service. We actually have had requests from clients: Do you have something that teaches people how to be polite?

So if you find these "marginal" employees should you hire them? We have always preached: hire for attitude and train for skill. George Zimmer of Men's Warehouse and his colleagues have tossed out conventional hiring rituals. His company looks for people with passion, excitement, and energy. George says, "We want people who enjoy life."

What do you do with the employees once you hire them? Is training the answer? You should not expect your customer service people to know everything; it takes years to become an "expert." But you do want them to come away from their initial training knowing who to ask when they don't know and that it is all right to make a mistake if they learn from it. Your training must begin with the basics and remember the best way to learn a skill is through guided practice. Training is my passion and I could talk about it for hours, so for now remember: review and reinforcement are keys to every training process. We can't apply it if we can't remember it. Behavioral psychologists have shown that if people are exposed to information once, they retain less than 10% at the end of 30 days. Yet if they are exposed to the same info, with interval reinforcement six times over 30 days, retention is greater than 90%.

To get people to deliver exceptional customer service, you have to be specific about what you want or have to clearly define the meaning. Too many managers just tell their employees to "be friendly." But friendliness alone is not enough. A friendly ticket agent who loses my reservation and causes me to miss my flight is just going to leave me frustrated. Employees need to know, in detail, what it takes to create raving fans and how to accomplish that with all kinds of customers. We need to make sure that we give employees the information that they need to do their jobs.

In my opinion, customer service is not getting worse because of a tight labor market. Customer service is getting worse because front-line workers do not have the training, systems, support and positive environment they need. All of us want to go home each night feeling proud of the way we spent our time that day. What can you do to make this happen?

Why does service stink? The tight labor market is an undeniable factor in contributing to today's poor service. Despite the ranting cries from customers, many companies just haven't made customer service a priority. The benefits of focusing training on this key area are enormous - employee retention, happier customers and higher profits to name a few.

When was the last time you received too much good service? It does not suffice to have customers merely satisfied; profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your product and service, and bring friends back with them

I close with a question? Are you going to implement something you just learned? The number one reason why people don't is because they dream of tomorrow, today is just too busy. In a few weeks or months when things slow down you will have more time; right? The best time to start is now. Just do it and I guarantee you will see results. I wish you the best.