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The customer is always right, apparently.

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Exploring the strangely different definitions of customer service, good and bad.

It’s almost impossible to go through a day without having to interact with someone who is providing you with, or selling you a service. From buying a coffee in the morning, showing your ticket to the inspector on the train, speaking to your bank, or even calling the take away for your weekly fix. Every time you do this you experience customer service first hand, and the result of this experience models your opinion of said service and the likelihood of you using it again (for those in which you have a choice).

The definition of good customer service is entirely subjective. What I perceive to be great service may be thought of as terrible by someone else and vice versa. There are however some universal basics to providing good service, and living by these can be the difference between your customers staying loyal, or starting to look elsewhere.

  • Communicate well and often, whether good or bad news, always keep the customer informed.
  • Treat people as you would expect to be treated, no, really!
  • Remember who is the customer, and why you are dealing with them – they are not there to inconvenience you.
  • Listen, and listen some more.
  • Follow up and ask how you did.
  • Remember, it isn’t about how you thought you did.

Having been on the receiving end of some absolutely shocking customer service recently, I found myself wondering if I am expecting too much from organisations and people. Even with me bringing this to their attention, the shoddy service seems to continue, with some of these people actually believing they are providing a great service. This only goes to concrete my previous point, that good service is highly subjective and open to definition.

I have purposely avoided restaurants where the food was great, because the service was terrible. I also find myself always using the same petrol station, not the one closest to my house, but the one I always get great service from. And that’s because the closest one to me may as well be self-service, as the humans serving there are barely conscious.

Is it any surprise then that with the huge efficiency gains, retailers are moving to self-service tills?

Self-service is nothing new, but it is now big business with everyone from the local petrol station, to the Post Office using it. I am a fan of this, and no doubt people will say “yes it’s great, when it works”, but take a look at how often you use this technology, and how often it actually doesn’t work. Self-service is inevitably going to put people out of work, but I for one would rather deal with a machine than a disinterested zombie who provides you with a grunt as the one sole acknowledgement of your transaction. However, sadly, this will also take away jobs from those individuals who provide superb face-to-face service.

One thing that never fails to astonish me though is that often those providing bad customer service, are also the ones complaining like anything that they themselves experienced poor service. They simply can’t relate this to what they themselves are providing.

I realise of course that I am potentially opening myself up to criticism here, but I welcome this.  After all, it’s hard to fix what you don’t know about. We should all be looking for ways to improve our service levels and constructive feedback should be used to do just that.

Poor service has never been so damaging. With the use of social media a bad review can go viral and pretty quickly undo months or even years of hard work building up your reputation. Michael Macintyre once told a joke about reviews on websites, and how human nature will drive you past the 300 great reviews until you find the one bad one. The result being that you then decide not to use that particular retailer, and goes to prove that the funniest jokes are often based on very real events. I have seen restaurants which I love get absolutely annihilated on Trip Adviser, because the waiter was poor – one person acting on your company’s behalf can absolutely generate lost business. However when as a customer I see the retailer replying and offering a chance to make this good, confidence is almost absolutely restored.

Bad service can be rectified, but apparently it takes 12 positive experiences for a customer to forget about the one negative – so in the case of customer service, prevention is absolutely 100% better than cure.

Customer service has never been so relevant.


Debbie Abbott

With a background in Marketing and Media, Debbie manages our digital marketing initiatives and provides valuable blog content for those of us a little less-technical.

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