Whatever Happened to Customer Service?

David Day

3 min read
Standing in line at the checkout. Three cashier lines open, ten people deep in each, and employees walking around like it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon.

You ask for half-sweet iced tea. Not sweet, not unsweet, but half sweet. The waitperson rolls her eyes and makes a note in between the click and pop sound of her chewing gum.

The real estate closing was supposed to be a month ago, but today’s the day. It’s been pushed back twice, but nobody really told you why. You drove back into town just for this meeting. Supposedly all the numbers and documents are in order. The title company calls again: “Sorry. Will next Thursday work for you?”

This post is more a rant than it is a blog post. I’m really sick and tired of lousy customer service. In today’s highly competitive environment you might think that customer service is at an all-time high. Perhaps in some industries it is, but I don’t think so. Where the heck did it go?

Each of the examples above is real—they actually happened to me or to someone I know personally. If you’re like me you see lousy customer service every day. You’d have to live in a hole not to. But there is good news: it motivates us marketers and business leaders to do a better job! If they’re going to set the bar so low, that means there is opportunity for you and me to shine. The opportunity to distinguish your brand with great customer service has never been better in America. That’s because the big box discounters have conditioned us to accept something much less than great service in exchange for low prices.

Here are a few ways we can build better brands through great customer service:
  1. Place a value on the act. Good customer service is meaningful to your customer. When you provide free pick up and delivery, you’ve saved them time and money. Tell them so. “It’s our pleasure to save you time and money by providing free pick up and delivery to you.”
  2. Link customer service to your brand identity. Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s slogan was “Pick Enterprise. We’ll pick you up.” And they do. From the minute you walk in the door, my friend Bryan Gentile’s Enterprise employees will make you feel important by looking you in the eye, shaking your hand, calling you by name, and hurrying to complete your transaction. They’ll even call you later in the day to see how your experience is going with your rental. Oh, and they will actually pick you up. Pun intended.
  3. Major on the minors. Great customer service is usually in the details. Great companies master the minutia. How many steps apart are the trash cans at DisneyWorld Orlando? Sixteen. They watched hundreds of guests, counted their steps until they saw the guests’ need of a trash can, and they put a receptacle there. When was the last time you saw trash on the ground at a Disney Park?
  4. Make customer service part of your culture. Enterprise actually grades their branches and scores them on their “Service Quality Index.” They hire kids out of college, train them up to believe if they “treat the customer right, the profits will follow.” New employees shadow someone doing it right, and then they are expected to do the same. According to Bryan, customer service at Enterprise will make or break an employee’s future. That is building a culture around service.
  5. Find out what “customer service” means to the customer. Sometimes we think we know, but asking the ones that matter might reveal a surprise. “We were offering free delivery, but what they really wanted was delivery on time, every time.” I have found that most folks are willing to pay for great service that is meaningful to them.
When you finish reading this, decide on just ONE THING that you will do to provide better service to your customer, and do it. The big guys have lowered the bar, so when you show up with great customer service, you look like an Olympic pole vaulter!

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