Customer Service is a Strategy,
Not a Slogan
By Peter L DeHaan
your organization make customer service a priority? I
expect that it does. In fact, I suspect that the
phrase “customer service” is found somewhere in your mission or
vision statement, etched on a wall plaque, proclaimed in your marketing
material, and oft orated by upper management.
as is often said, “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than
words.” So the question becomes, do you
actually provide quality customer service or just brag about it?
Has the vocabulary of providing world-class customer service
been bandied about so often that you – and the entire organization
– have been falsely convinced that it is a reality, when in fact it
has no basis in truth?
a previous article, “A $175 Oil Change,”
a local car dealership charged $175, accomplishing no tangible
results other than changing the oil. This was the
only impetus I needed to return to the trustworthy comfort and
integrity of my local service station, where I continue to be a loyal
and supportive customer of their car care services. Unfortunately,
the day that I dreaded came last summer, when they informed me that
repairing my heat-producing air conditioner was beyond the scope of
their services; I would need to take the car to the dealer.
trepidation, I walked into the dealer’s brightly lit and tastefully
decorated service department. As I walked up to the
“customer service” desk, a representative, clad in business attire
with tasteful tie, greeted me by name. I explained
the problem and, knowing their mode of operation all too well, asked
for an estimate. With a confidence-building smile
and positive words of assuredness, he sent me on my way.
phone call came shortly after I returned to the office: $1,575! Following
my dumbfounded silence, he launched into an extended explanation,
mixing mechanic jargon and automotive terminology – which I doubt
even he fully understood – seemingly aimed to intimidate me into
accepting their costly diagnosis. According to
their investigation, a heater problem was also uncovered and somehow
related to the AC repair. True, for only $980, I
could fix just the AC, but then it would be over $1,200 to go back
later to repair the heater.
get realistic,” I challenged him, determined to not be victimized
representative apologized that he had no other options and admitted
that his “hands were tied.” I declined to
authorize the repair and made arrangements to pick up the car.
He kept repeating, “I’m sorry; I know I’ve lost you as a
took some time, but eventually I heard about a full-service garage
with a reputation for honesty. I took the car in.
Sitting in a small and somewhat dingy office with a dated décor
and amidst organized clutter, I explained the chronology of events,
sharing the dealer’s written estimate. The owner
of the garage chose his words carefully, “Well, they could be right,
but I think we can get it working for much less.” He
had a $185 solution that he wanted to try. Plus, if
he was wrong, he would apply that amount to the repair the dealer
recommended (for which his normal price was only $800). As
far as the heater issue, he found no justification for any work.
followed his recommendation. The $185 AC repair
proved to be accurate, keeping us cool through a hot and humid summer,
with the heater working without incident throughout that winter.
dealership had talked ad-nauseam about their top-notch customer
service in their ads, promotions, mailings, and sales pitch.
They even put on an impressive front, but there was no
substance; to them, customer service seemed to be maximizing the
repair bill. The garage, on the other hand,
didn’t talk about customer service; they just did it.
second pair of customer service stories are equally illustrative.
Although my family is not often prone to renting movies, we did
have a membership in a nearby town. My wife and I
entered their store, with a two-for-one coupon in hand and the
residual amount from a gift certificate on account. Our
expectation was that we would each pick a movie and pay for them using
the coupon and credit balance. We were wrong.
first sign of trouble came in the checkout line, when the clerk could
not pull us up in their computer. “We got new
computers,” he said curtly as he continued typing in vain.
After much too long, he impatiently demanded, “When were you
last here?” Our answer irritated him.
“Well, that’s your problem,” he announced.
“We gotta put ya in again.” He took all
of our information and had us sign an ominous contract.
he scanned the DVDs, I handed him the coupon. “We
don’t accept these,” he declared disdainfully. Dumbfounded,
I asked why. “It’s for Acme Video Hits and
we’re Acme Video Plus, now.” I pointed to the
in-store sign displaying Acme Video Hits. “We got
bought out and they voided all the coupons. It
happened three months ago,” he explained exasperatedly, as though
this was common knowledge of which only ignorant people were unaware;
“We haven’t changed our signs yet.” He typed
some more. “That will be seven dollars.”
charged us the price for current releases,” I informed him, pointing
to a sign for 99 cent rentals of older movies.
you got DVDs,” he said with a not so subtle sigh and slight roll of
the eyes. “Ninety-nine cents is only for VHS.”
He paused and, saving me from another query, added, “They
changed that, too.” An unfruitful discussion
ensued, but he gave up and got “the manager” when I inquired our
credit balance, which had been lost during either the acquisition or
manager appeared and with great boldness and partial aplomb, began
demonstrating to his lackadaisical charge, proper problem resolution
skills. He aptly summarized anew the critical
information that we had pieced together from the unwitting clerk.
He stated the company line and confirmed the price of seven
dollars. However, he soon relented and eventually
offered to partially accept our coupon, zero out the balance on our
unverifiable account, and only charge us three dollars.
this was the best we could reasonably do, I accepted his offer and
thanked him. He smiled broadly and shook my hand,
no doubt assuring himself of a successfully resolved conflict and a
customer retained. My wife and I, however, left
with a far different perspective. The uncaring
clerk had simply dug too big of a hole for his boss to climb out of;
damage had been done and it was irreversible.
wasn’t until a movie rental chain opened a local outlet that we
again rented a movie. We walked in and hesitantly
approached the counter. Michelle smiled broadly and
genuinely welcomed us. Upon learning that we were
first-time customers, she carefully and patiently explained how
everything worked, including the store layout, membership, prices, and
the specials. Her pleasant and easy-going demeanor
was refreshing and put us at ease.
we began browsing, clerk after clerk would momentarily appear,
helpfully restating a tidbit of information, providing direction, or
offering assistance, then moving away as quickly and stealthy as they
appeared. This was not like my usual retail
experience when a clerk asks if I need help and I feel compelled to
say “no” even though I do. At the movie store,
the clerks’ interactions were both welcomed and beneficial.
it came time to pay, Michelle, with her effervescent personality and
evident enjoyment of her job, made the process of becoming a member
both pleasant and effective, reiterating the value of membership and
reinforcing the specials. She even did a successful
up-sell – which seldom works with me – to pre-pay for several
movies; this was quite a feat considering my prior experience with
having a credit balance. But when one has a
compelling offer that is presented with infectious enthusiasm, it is
easy to be successful.
amazed me most about Michelle, however, was that through all of this,
she was training two employees! She had the ability
to give them subtle cues and brief instructions in the midst of
serving us, without leaving us feeling slighted or inconvenienced.
is not surprising that I am looking forward to my next movie rental.
I have even planned my selections for that snowy weekend this
winter, when I take advantage of their “buy two, get three free”
special! Good customer service is always an
invitation to return.
be successful, customer service needs to be more than just a slogan,
more than mere lip service. It needs to be a
strategy, one that is fully and successfully implemented with the
customer’s best interest in mind.
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