The truth about customer service

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

28 March 2011

How much customer service do people really want?

Here’s the thing about promising good customer service. Few actually do it well, even though everybody promises it. That’s because most believe good customer service is about being friendlier than everyone else and wrapping it within internal processes that have no importance to the customer.

Case in point. Recently, I bought a car. The entire process took three hours. And it was all under the guise of good customer service.

“They were things they knew they could do, but hadn’t considered if they were important to the customer or even what was important.”

There was the run-through of every minute detail in the manual, which the sales person said he was required to do. (I know how to use windshield wipers, please.) There was a second run-through in the car with the manual. There was the tour of the service garage. There was the insistence I come back in two hours once the car is washed. (It was raining.)

customer serviceThere’s more, but you get my point. These were all processes the dealership had instituted in the name of customer service, but they were conceived from the inside out. They were things they knew they could do, but hadn’t considered if they were important to the customer or even what was important. (In this case, it was to drive off the lot with the car.)

Good customer service is in the eye of the beholder

This isn’t a rant about this particular bad and long experience, but a reminder that inside-out thinking mars a brand despite even good intentions. To fulfill a brand promise, you must honestly consider what is most important to your target audience and find ways to support it. The most important thing is usually not a cashier jabbering way, but getting your groceries through as quickly as possible or answering a question.

Good service has simply become a bad description, because most of us know what that means – and it isn’t good. It means someone taking up too much of your time when there are other things more important than being overly friendly to me.

Or even worse, good service has become such an overused term that it has no effect. It isn’t a brand promise anyway, because everybody claims it and, for it to represent a true choice, the opposite would have to be claimable as well. (It would only represent a choice if the competition claimed “terrible” service.)

Inside-out thinking is dangerous, even in something as innocuous as customer service. I’ll never go back to that dealership, fearing I’ll be trapped by an over-eager sales person showing me every little meaningless detail of the showroom, the coffee pot and the car as I yearn to get out.

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