What is Customer Service?

Jul 15, 2010 by

This week I have experienced both ends of the spectrum in terms of customer service from the high street, and every shade in between.  The difference has been extreme, and it made me question whether customer service is viewed as  a nicety rather than a necessity these days.

What is customer service? There are probably loads of dictionary definitions out there but to me it’s about treating the client with respect, doing your best to assist them and provide the service or product that meets their requirement, and sometimes being prepared to think outside the box or make an exception.

Over the years I have had plenty of customer service training, I still remember the ‘warm fuzzy’ and ‘cold prickly’ training I got in my Saturday job at Woolworths.  We even had the little fluffy things with the ribbon on that sit on your desk to remind us that we had to use warm fuzzies when dealing with customers. In the motor trade I watched with interest as the PLC’s suddenly jumped on the customer service bandwagon, suddenly making the customer happy was more important than ever, no longer were the old fashioned sales tactics acceptable, now the customer was king and his ever so important grading of you from 1 to 10 meant more than anything to head office.

Has the pursuit of customer service gone too far? Do we really want to end up with the ‘have a nice day’ false smile every time we shop? I don’t. I want sincerity, I would like the store assistant to look as though they cared, rather than as though they can’t wait to go home,  and would like to be treated as more than just a number, or an allocated time slot.

So what is good customer service? This week it was the lady in the high street store who gladly accepted my rather long emailed shopping list from me, and went out of her way to source the stock and supply it to my rather tight deadline.  She suggested alternatives when items were discontinued, and had an excellent knowledge of her product.  She even suggested alternative retailers where she was unable to meet my requirements.  She offered to open the store early for me, in order to facilitate completion of the order, and kept me regularly updated in terms of delivery date, and advised where extras had not been requested that were really quite important to the order.  I suppose that this is all part of her job, but throughout the relationship she made me feel as though I was important to her, even to the point of leaving me a voicemail when the order process was completed, offering further assistance if I needed it.  Will I shop with her again? Too right I will. Not only that I am actually going to write to her head office and say how wonderful she is, not to mention sending her a handwritten thank you card.  Why am I doing this? Because too often these days we only ever take the time to complain. People are quick to judge, and much slower at showing gratitude.  Is there any wonder anyone working in the customer facing environment becomes jaded over time.

So what is bad customer service? It’s where you are so rigid with your rules that you make it impossible for the customer to purchase your product or service. There is no option when ‘the computer says no’, no, it’s not the comedy sketch from the TV, it’s the way too many companies are heading in the modern world.  If you don’t tick the right boxes on their computer system they are unable to assist you. They are very eager to offer an apology, as if the word sorry will magically fix everything.  It’s where you don’t listen to what the customer wants or needs, or you listen and then still say no.  Would it really be that hard to try and find a solution for your customer?  I think this is becoming a much more common issue since the advent of the call centre. The local knowledge has been diluted, to the point that when I try and ring my clients local business manager I often end up talking to someone a couple of hundred miles away or even in a foreign country.  His local business manager can sometimes make a decision for himself and be flexible or supportive, these remote call centres are hampered by such rigid rules and lack of local knowledge they are unable to help.

So how do you incorporate customer service into your business? Do you value your customer or are they just an anonymous number, a means to an end? I am not sure of the exact statistic but an irate customer will tell many more people about your bad customer service, a happy one normally tells less than a handful.  Sometimes a complaining customer can become your best advocate, listen to what the problem is, if it’s your fault acknowledge the error, tell them how you will rectify it for

them now, and how you will ensure this doesn’t happen again in the future.  By coming up with a solution you have that customer on your side, yes he may still tell his friends what you did wrong, but he will also tell them how you went out of your way to assist.

Does customer service not relate back to manners in some way? I was brought up to say please and thank you, to respect others, and to treat people as I would like to be treated.  Over the years I have seen some appalling treatment of staff by customers. There is a huge difference between being firm and being rude.  There is no need to be rude. If you want to receive good customer service then firstly you have to be a good customer, secondly you have to take pot luck that the supplier you select actually cares about customer service, it’s a bit like a lottery in a way.

So think about how you can show good customer service in your business, show respect to those you are dealing with, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box on occasion. These days it’s not all about price, it’s the overall service.

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  1. The statistics about how many people hear about poor service have gone out of the window with the advent of social media sites. I’m sure that we have all seen #fail somewhere. How many of us have seen #success or similar. How many of us have written a message telling of good customer service? Some recent very poor service I received ended up on a blog that had comments on the blog and on twitter. The company although not named probably doesn’t even realise what people are saying about them and their industry.

    Customers are essential to businesses. Customers cost time and money to acquire in advertising and the other methods that you use. Why would you then not look after them because a happy customer is far more likely to buy from you as they know the products and perhaps more importantly the quality of the service that they will get from you and your business.

    October the 4th is the start of Customer Service Week. Lets work to ensure that those businesses that choose not to give good customer service realise the error of their ways.

    ‘Have a nice day’ can become as meaningless as any other slogan if there aren’t the systems behind the staff to ensure that they really do hope that you do have a nice day because that is important.

  2. Good manners are the basis of customer service so it’s a shame so many have to be taught how to treat a customer. Even so, we know when it has been taught because it’s not genuine, which is even more irritating than someone just being stubborn or rude.

    I also have to point out that customers can be very rude, demanding their rights and not accepting genuine mistakes.

    “Treat others how you’d like to be treated yourself”

  3. I think Mark Barton has summed up why customer service is SO vital to every business at anytime. In the current economic crisis it is even more important to treat your customers well, making sure that they feel valued, want to do business with you and evenmore importantly they take away a good experience which makes them want to return.
    Mine is a bit of an ‘anorak’ business, we sell metal boxes with locks we are not a well known name in our field, our brand is not recognised like those of our competitors, but we hear time and time again that customers have come back to us because we gave them good service and advice.
    Why wouldn’t we look after our customers – after all they pay our wages! But that small fact sadly seems to elude many business owners and if they don’t instill an ethos of good service in their business their employees don’t understand its’ importance.

    As a former manager of mine put it – we need to make our customers feel cuddled and I’m happy to say that our customers feel very cuddled!

  4. 3 very good responses to this blog already!

    Like yourself, I spent a number of years in an extreme customer service focused business, and we had to make it our priority to provide this service – why? Because it boosted our pay.

    The company I worked for, provided very healthy bonus structures for providing excellent customer service – but should we be paying people for something that should be a given?

    It always amazes me, how in America, When receiving service the please and thank you’s are sincere and regular with nothing being too much bother – what have we missed out on in the UK?

    My biggest gripe is poor customer service, which actually makes my blood boil, but, have managed to turn this around on a few occasions to benefit myself and the business.

    Manners costs nothing, nor does a smile, it is necessary, for us as a country to improve our customer service standards.


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