Customer Service: The Buck Stops Here

President Truman, on more than one occasion, would refer to the concept that “The Buck Stops Here”. Indeed, he saw a sign for such on the desk of another federal official in Missouri. Truman liked it so much he asked if such a sign could be made for him. When he received it, he placed it at the front of his desk in the White House.

From the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.
From the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

The expression is a reference associated with the saying “pass the buck.” Here’s what A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles had to say:

“The saying “the buck stops here” derives from the slang expression “pass the buck” which means passing the responsibility on to someone else. The latter expression is said to have originated with the game of poker, in which a marker or counter, frequently in frontier days a knife with a buckhorn handle, was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by “passing the buck,” as the counter came to be called, to the next player.”


So in essence, “the buck stops here” means that the individual is going to “deal” with the issue involved. Making it your company’s mantra that employees are going to take ownership and deal with the problems they encounter is critical to being world-class. Yet doing so seems very difficult for many organizations, even on very simple matters.

Returning the Shirt

For example, returning a shirt can become a huge hassle if the process isn’t considered from the customer’s point of view. Imagine you return to a store to exchange a shirt you purchased earlier. The sales associate informs you that he or she can’t help you, that you’ll need to go to customer service to process the exchange. Once you get to customer service, the associate informs you that he or she can’t help you, and that you need to see the supervisor. After waiting for the supervisor to arrive, the supervisor tells you that before he or she can process the exchange, you’ll need to fill out a form. By the time you go through all that extra effort, you might be justifiably upset.


If the employee is empowered to handle the situation immediately and satisfy the original reason you came to the store, the process allows for an opportunity to prevent further “cost” on behalf of the customer–hopefully, even adding value in some way. Even in cases where multiple functions need be involved, processes can be established to allow front line employees to work together to make the experience easier for the customer. Accountability can still be part of the process, it simply can be handled among the team or behind-the-scenes–away from the customer experience.

Singapore: “No Wrong Door”

One of the most difficult arenas for dealing with one-stop solutions is in a big bureaucratic arena like government. You’re never quite sure which agency to contact to deal with your given issue. The government of Singapore saw this a few years ago and instituted the concept of a “No Wrong Door” policy to deal with misdirected feedback or cross agency issues from the public effectively.

Parliament House in Singapore
Parliament House in Singapore

A few years later, the “No Wrong Door” was complemented with the First Responder Protocol, ensuring that public requests and feedback were expediently addressed in a reasonable way by the entire Government, even if the right agency was not the first door they knocked on. This was to ensure that people didn’t fall through the cracks between agencies, especially when an issue didn’t fall neatly in one department’s purview. While this is a difficult hurdle, the effort is a reflection of Singapore’s effort to be more responsive to its citizens and those they served.


Whether it’s a major government entity or simply returning an article of clothing, world-class organizations identify processes for which employees should take responsibility that enables them to work together effectively, retain accountability, and optimize the customer experience in the process. Moreover, they empower their employees to “deal” with the situation when a “given hand” is presented to them. Some management believes they can’t empower their employees to handle certain matters. Others think that they are too busy to handle such issues. But if the president of the United States can take ownership, why not everyone else?

The back side of the same Truman plaque. It's what the President read each day.
As a side note, this is the back side of the same plaque. It’s what the President viewed each day.

If these are the kinds of issues you deal with in your organization, may we suggest reading our book, Lead With Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand Into World-Class Excellence. It’s available on Amazon today!

By Mark David Jones and J. Jeff Kober.
By Mark David Jones and J. Jeff Kober.


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