Ben Franklin on Customer Service

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Mark Eppler

You can get some pretty good insights into delivering exemplary customer service from Karl Albrecht, Ron Zemke, and Tom Peters. But if you’re looking for advice with real staying power, take a look at what Benjamin Franklin had to say about taking care of customers back in 1749:

  • “Lay a good foundation in regard to principle: Be sure not willfully to overreach, or deceive your neighbor; but always keep in your eye the golden rule as doing as you would be done unto.”
  • “Endeavor to be as much in your shop, or in whatever place your business properly lies, as possibly you can. Your presence may prevent the loss of a good customer.”
  • “Be complaisant to the meanest, as well as the greatest. You are as much obliged to use good manners for a farthing as a pound.”
  • “Be not too talkative, but speak as much as is necessary to recommend your goods. If customers slight your goods, and undervalue them, endeavor to convince them of their mistake, if you can, but do not affront them: do not be pert in your answers, but with patience hear, and with meekness give an answer; for if you affront in a small matter, it may probably hinder you from a future good customer."
  • “Strive to maintain a fair character in the world: That will be the best means for advancing your credit, gaining you the most flourishing trade, and enlarging your fortune.”
  • “Condescend to no mean action, but add a luster to trade, by keeping up the dignity of your nature.”

More than 250 years later, Benjamin Franklin’s words ring no less true. It’s easy to picture Franklin today as a wealthy entrepreneur, the envy of a Bill Gates or Donald Trump, standing before his management team to distribute performance bonuses.

Let’s listen in as B. Franklin, CEO, addresses his team:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we had a prosperous year in 2007, but we can do better. We must endeavor to remember that without our valued customers, none of us would be here today. It behooves us, therefore, to review once again those seven cardinal rules upon which the success of this business was fashioned, rules that apply to every representative of this company:

  1. The only firm foundation in business is one built, block by block, on customer satisfaction. Exemplary service requires a solid base of principle and purpose. Our leaders are the service-conscience of our company.
  2. State your capabilities as honestly as you possible can. Exemplary service strives to increase value, but it does not promise more than it can deliver.
  3. Treat every transaction as equal, regardless of appearances or value. Remember the scruffy-looking construction worker who was treated poorly by a bank receptionist in Spokane. He took his business, two million dollars worth, to another company.
  4. Be available to your customers and associates (internal customers). Absentee management—not being around when needed—conveys disinterest in your customer’s needs.
  5. Sell our distinction of doing business, the added value we offer. Don’t badger our customers or haggle over price.
  6. Let our service be distinguished by our patience, courtesy, kindness, sincerity, fairness,  and helpfulness.
  7. Make our service noticeable by its distinction for excellence. Let our “luster” shine through. If we do these things, if we make the customer understand that we care passionately about his or her satisfaction, I see no reason why we shall not gather again next year to celebrate another record year. You may rest assured at that time that I will render unto you the same words of advice. They will never change."

What Ben Franklin believed in, he believed in with a passion. This belief, combined with his creativity, problem-solving skills and common sense wisdom, earned him the reputation as the most dangerous man in America by the crowned head of England. His focus and commitment were scary to those whose interests he challenged. If Franklin were alive today and practicing his common sense approach to meeting customer needs, he would again be regarded as the most dangerous man in America. Only this time, it would be by those who tried to compete with him in business without putting the customer first.

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About the Author(s)

Mark Eppler is the founder of Ohio-based Mark Eppler & Associates. As an adjunct lecturer in business and management at Indiana University, he received the Robert Richey Award for Teaching Excellence. He is the author of the best-selling book Management Mess-Ups: 57 Pitfalls You Can Avoid (And Stories of Those Who Didn’t), just released in a newly revised edition, and most recently, The Wright Way: 7 Problem-Solving Principles from the Wright Brothers That Can Make Your Business Soar (AMACOM Books).