Customer service – is that all there is?


What do toast, New Zealand and stranded cars have in common with customer service?

Paul Cooper spills the beans.

I’ve been directly in the “customer service industry” now for over 15 years, and trying to provide it for customers my whole career.  In this role I have spent much of the time watching and monitoring customer service, good, bad or indifferent.

Customer service is like toast

I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem with customer service is that it’s like toast – add jam and it’s sweet, add beans and it’s savoury. The toast itself is neutral.

The same applies to customer service. It can be bad customer service, neutral, or good customer service. What’s really important is that it is customer excellence, but am I expecting too much?

After playing this monitoring role for such a long time, I think I have it in my mind which organisations usually give good or even great service, and this is nearly always borne out by surveys like the UKCSI and others. Companies like John Lewis, Waitrose, Richer Sounds, Prêt a Manger, Virgin Atlantic, Lego, First Direct, etc. deserve these accolades, no doubt, and those delivering poor service – you know who they are – also deserve their poor reputation.

Setting the bar incredibly low

So what’s my problem? Well, I just wonder if, in some cases, we’re setting the bar incredibly low. We’re so desperate to give some credit for good service, probably because it’s so rare, that we’re starting to believe that we’re getting great service when someone is actually just doing the job. Know what I mean:

  • The contact centre actually answered the phone!
  • I got a human being who spoke English!
  • The person behind the counter actually served me!
  • They had it in stock!
  • He actually knew how the thing worked!
  • They got the invoice right!
  • Their advice was actually useful!

And so on…..

Just doing the job?

Just doing their job, then. “Ah, but they were smiling, or very friendly, or so helpful,” you will say. Well, isn’t that the job, too? Do organisations pay people to be deliberately miserable, rude, or obstructive? [In some cases, yes – Ed]

Going the extra mile

Yes, of course, I hear lovely stories about people who really do go the extra mile – giving people lifts to fetch stranded cars, finding ways around silly rules, and all those sorts of things, and that’s great, and should be recognised. But aren’t we in danger of being so grateful that someone has actually just done their job properly that we are more effusive about it than logic should dictate? People who actually answer the phone, know what they’re talking about, care, and keep promises are still in the minority in many organisations, but really, it is their job. Their recruitment, induction training, on-the-job training, and any qualifications they seek all stress these points as basic requirements. But is that all there is?

Should we tip for average service?

In many ways it’s like the tipping disease, which, of course, is out of control in the US, but is still crazy here, too. We’re expected to add more money to an already too expensive meal bill, taxi, etc., to supplement the staff’s wages because the management doesn’t pay them enough, and all for doing their job, often poorly.

Does anyone ever tip you for doing your job – working in a shop or contact centre, running a home, working in local government or in public transport (or editing a magazine, Jonty!)? No, I didn’t think so. So why are we doing it for these selected jobs? It doesn’t happen in Italy or many other European countries, and it is actually bad manners in many Middle East and Far Eastern countries. It’s even considered rude in places like New Zealand.

It’s demeaning.

Seek out people who give really tremendous service

Paul A Cooper

Paul Cooper

In 2013 I’m going to start a new quest – to seek out those organisations, and people, who give really tremendous service, consistently, and whenever possible actually acknowledge this by thanking them for it and telling them why. In many cases it is just natural to them and they don’t know they are doing it, but they are very precious, and we need them desperately if we are going to get better at this as a nation.

Why not join me in my quest – and do let me know whenever you find one.

Paul A Cooper is a Director at Customer Plus

What should we do as an industry to recognise really tremendous service?  Should we set up a Twitter feed to promote it?  We’d be really interested to hear your thoughts in an email to Call Centre Helper

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 14th Aug 2013 - Last modified: 20th Sep 2019
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy,

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  • I always thought that the ultimate recognition of great customer service is when your organization copies it as well.

    Liam 15 Aug at 12:40
  • In response to the question concluding this article, I’d say it’s a difficult task to properly provide recognition and motivation to a support team. I feel I have an advantage with a relatively small team (4-5 Agents depending on load).
    Creating a bond between team members is important. I have always admired the creative work done by (our platform)’s team. They have fun little videos to demo their product, call out members of their team. They gave us the idea of integrating Yammer with our support platform to provide opportunity for shout-outs and follow-up on negative ticket reviews.

    Building a good relationship with our customers also comes down to a familiarity or personal touch. Many of our members call in and reach an Agent they’ve spoken with before, know them by name, and are happy to connect again. We’re thinking about setting up a small blog for the Support team to try and share the personality of the team, and give our members (who are interested) an opportunity to peek into our Help Centre to feel more involved or connected with our team. I think that’s the most important recognition – not necessarily from within our team, but from the membership we serve.

    Alex Killby 15 Aug at 15:42