Customer Service

Can you remember the last time you received really exceptional customer service? Me neither!

How times change. About ten years ago, excellence in customer service was the big thing. I should know – I was doing workshops with various companies on how to improve customer service. The demand for this type of training dried up a long time ago. It’s a shame.

The latest “in-thing” seems to be CRM – customer relationship management. As I understand CRM, its purpose is to identify the 20% that are your best customers. You then lavish your attention and marketing on them. And the other 80%? Well, basically, screw them! The goal is now on maximizing profits at the expense of providing all customers with great service. I believe this approach will come back to haunt these companies.

According to research, customer service is still one of the top reasons people buy from a particular company. So it is important for us to offer great customer service – it is our competitive advantage.

Let’s dust off those old training manuals and see what is involved in offering exceptional customer service.

Customers have certain expectations of those providing services to them. These include such things as:

1. Responsiveness
2. Trust
3. Common courtesies
4. Competence
5. Reliability

Let’s examine each of these.


Everywhere you look, service is getting faster. Every time it does, your customers expect you to be faster too. They expect you to serve them promptly - even immediately. And they expect you to do it willingly. Your choices are to meet those expectations, or to shape their expectations so that they are not expecting what you cannot deliver.

Here are five important points to keep in mind with respect to responsiveness in service.

1. You can’t assume when the customer wants it. Quite often, we assume that the customer expects to be served right away, or as soon as possible. If you ask, you might be surprised how reasonable they are. They may be willing to wait a lot longer than you think. Do you really know how long your customers expect to wait?

2. Customer expectations are changeable. Your customers’ expectations change over time, and may change from time to time. The customer who is in big rush at noon on a workday may be willing to wait quite some time in the afternoon. How do you find out how long they expect to wait?

3. The worst part of waiting is not knowing. It’s been said that customer dissatisfaction is not measured in minutes. Time seems to pass more slowly when you are uncertain how long you’ll be waiting. Make sure you acknowledge waiting customers. Let them know how things are going and when they can expect to be served.

4. Deadlines are created. When you tell the customer you’ll do something by a certain time, even if you say “I’ll try,” the customer hears a promise. They expect you to keep your promises. It’s better to set realistic deadlines than to end up breaking a promise. Do you promise for deadlines and then not keep them?

5. It’s easy to forget about customers who are out of your sight. When your customer is on the phone, in another room, or in another town, it’s easy to lose track of how long the service transaction is taking. Pay particular attention to the waiting times for these customers. Do you have customers that are out of your sight while they wait? Do you ever forget them?


When a customer comes to us for service, they turn over something important to us. They trust us to give them the value they are seeking, and to deal with them in a way they expect. Their trust persists only as long as they feel assured by our courtesy, competence and confidence.

Think of trust as the lubrication of the service transaction. When it’s missing, the transaction grinds along. Communication is more difficult. The customer notices and reacts to every mistake or perceived mistake on your part. They are defensive and careful. They doubt you.

When trust is there, things move along more smoothly. Communication is free and open. A mistake might be allowed. The customer is more willing to listen and be influenced by what you have to say. They believe you.

Earn their trust and work hard to keep it!

Common courtesies

All of us have been socialized to expect certain courtesies to happen. When you fail to meet these expectations, especially early on in the service transaction, you will be perceived to be uncaring, rude and untrustworthy.

You can be discourteous without saying a word. You communicate with the customer through everything you do. Your behaviour and body language communicate a lot about how you feel toward your customers. To build trust in your customers, send assuring messages even when you’re not talking.


Courtesy is no substitute for competence. A satisfying service transaction is built on your knowledge and skills:

1. Product knowledge. Customers expect you to know all the details of whatever products or services you provide.

2. Organization knowledge. Customers expect you to be knowledgeable beyond the limits of your job. They will expect you to be able to provide direction and information about services outside your normal responsibilities.

3. Problem solving. Customers expect you to accurately diagnose their needs and move quickly to meeting them. If something is amiss for them, they expect you to fix it.


Reliability means keeping your service promises. There are three kinds of promises to which you need to pay attention:

1. Personal promises. These are the promises you personally make to the customer. You might promise to do something for them, or that someone else will do something for them. They expect you to keep these promises. Keep in mind that most customers hear “I’ll try” as a personal promise.

2. Organizational promises. These promises are made both directly and indirectly. The organization makes direct promises in ads, literature, correspondence, contracts, etc. Indirect promises are things taken for granted by the customer. If for example, the president were to promise better service from the company, your customers would assume that you would deliver.

3. Expected promises. These are the customer’s expectation of the level of service you will provide. You may never have promised anything, but if the customer expects it, then it’s a promise in their eyes.

There are two important strategies that can help you be more reliable in the customer’s eyes: manage the customer’s expectations and set standards for yourself.

One useful strategy is to “under-promise and over-deliver.” Always lead customers to expect a little less than what you believe you can deliver. In that way you are more likely to meet their expectations, even if the unforeseen happens. Better yet, if things go well, you can deliver more than promised; you create an enhancer. Keep in mind there are limits to using this strategy.

Set service standards as a way to hold yourself accountable to the expectations your customers have. When a standard is not achieved, emphasis should be placed on implementing service improvements, not finding fault or blame.

Remember, satisfied customers are repeat customers. They are your best source of word-of-mouth marketing! Both are among the most cost-effective ways to increase your business.