Beware the Customer Service Absolutes


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It’s not unusual to come across all sorts of all-inclusive statements that drive customer expectations about business products and services. When a business puts out a marketing statement to lure in new customers, they had better be able to deliver on it.

On a recent visit to Starbucks, I tried a cup of their “Perfect Oatmeal” for the first time. With all of the natural goodness oozing from the display photograph, I wanted to see just how “perfect” it would be. To put it kindly: it’s anything but perfect. Somehow, I guess they figured out that having a photo of someone ripping open a brown packet of generic instant oatmeal into a paper cup and adding hot water from the espresso machine just wouldn’t have the same draw. Go figure.

Now, did I really expect to get a perfect cup of oatmeal? No, of course not; however, with a name like “Perfect Oatmeal,” I did expect to get something a little more than what I described above. Maybe a magical new Starbucks process that somehow takes oatmealy goodness to the next level by hand mixing in the added almonds that I asked for. What I got was a plastic packet of nuts, and an instruction on the lid of the oatmeal cup which says to wait three minutes before eating it. Hmmm, I guess perfection takes time.

To be sure, businesses need to beware of setting expectations with customers about experience absolutes. Things like: “We’re the friendliest store in town.” While scientifically difficult to substantiate, if that’s a motto on your front door, you better be an extremely friendly store with employees that are innately happy all the time, or you will not be living up to the expectation you set.

“Guaranteed lowest prices; The best burger in [insert region or town]; World’s best [insert product or service]”…you get the idea. Using absolute terms like “lowest; best; strongest” typically tend to overstate the product or service, and actually begin to numb customers (the very people you are trying to reach) to the real message of just how good you very well may be.

But the real determination of how good you are is not up to you (as the business); it’s up to your customers to decide. If they think you have the best clam chowder on the East coast, then that’s the reputation you will have. If they believe that the cars you manufacture are the coolest thing around, then they are. But only if they say so.

What’s the alternative? Find creative ways to demonstrate your commitment to excellence, rather than saying you’re already all that. As an example, Lexus, while delivering very cool cars (because I said so) also has a very appealing tag line: “The relentless pursuit of perfection.” Now that’s saying something. Are their cars perfect? No, but they give the customer the idea that this car is the closest thing to perfection that Lexus has been able to come up with so far, and that’s pretty dang good. Is Lexus really pursuing perfection? I have no idea; I’ve never owned one of their cars. But I’d rather do business with a company that says they’re pursuing perfection and misses, than to do business with a company who says their product already is perfect and still misses. Do you see the difference?

Being successful in business is all about excellence, whether it’s in product manufacturing, delivery, or marketing. Always strive for excellence, and always be truthful and honest in the expectations you set about your commitment to excellence, and then let your customers tell everyone how wonderful you are. Because they will.

Just for fun…

“If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.” – Anon

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Martorano
Steve has been on the front lines with customers for over 25 years. He is currently Director of Customer Services for Polygon Northwest, a real estate developer in both the Seattle and Portland markets. Steve is also the creator of, an online resource designed to provide insights and training to customer professionals across many industries.


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