Customer Service Strategy: Try to Be 100% Perfect (Which Is Impossible)


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Here’s another customer service lesson from the airlines.

Earlier this month (February 14, 2012) the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that the airlines had their best December for on time arrivals in 17 years. Flights arrived on time, which means no later than 15 minutes of their published arrival time, 84.4% of the time, and only .08% of flights were canceled. Contrast that with the year’s prior statistics which were 72% of flights were on time and 3.7% were canceled. Big improvement.

I’ll cut the airlines a little slack, as sometimes the delays are out of their control. There are mechanical problems that prevent a plane from taking off on time. I’d rather find out the plane is broken just before take-off than when it’s 30,000 feet in the air. And, planes won’t fly when the weather is really bad. By the way, the reason for the better performance in December was weather related – actually lack of weather related. It was a mild December with fewer storms.

So, here’s my take. Please understand that I’m not attacking the airline industry. However, they may be one of the best examples of a flawed service experience. Any industry or company that misses a performance benchmark, like an on time arrival by 20%, is one that is marred with uncertainty and problems.

What if your car didn’t start 20% of the time, which meant you were late for an important sales appointment one out of every five times? How many sales would you lose, just because you couldn’t show up on time?

What if you showed up for work late at least one day a week? How long before you are reprimanded? How long before you are told not to come to work at all?

What if a particular doctor was known to botch a surgery 20% of the time? How many patients would that doctor have?

Here’s the customer service lesson: Regardless of how good your customer service is, if you or your product/service fails to do what it is supposed to do, you will eventually lose customers. There is a loss of confidence, which erodes loyalty.

The goal is 100% perfection. And, while perfection is not reality, good enough may not be good enough. Most of the time is not all of the time. What you sell has to do what you promise it will do, and you must deliver it with strong customer service. When you do, you have a winning combination and a chance at getting that customer to come back the next time they need what you sell. And when that happens over and over, the customer will eventually own the experience. Once they own it, you have created customer confidence. And, the combination of a great experience, which includes a product that works and great customer service, combined with customer confidence are the ingredients that lead to customer loyalty.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Shep Hyken
Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. As a customer service speaker and expert, Shep works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is a hall of fame speaker (National Speakers Association) and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author.


  1. Shep, I know you’re just trying to make a point that companies should strive to be perfect. Reminds me of the Six Sigma movement.

    Hard to argue with that, except I will. 🙂

    As a consumer, I don’t want the airlines to try to be perfect, if it means compromising my safety. I know you’re not suggesting that, but if companies put too much emphasis on meeting performance metrics they could motivate employees to do stupid things.

    Like pushing back airplanes from the gate and letting them sit there for an hour, just so they can say they “departed” on time. Fortunately, they can’t fudge the arrival part, until time travel is invented.

    My view is that companies need to:

    1. Set expectations correctly. If passengers know that weather or mechanical problems can delay flights, the airline won’t be blamed for that.

    2. Manage performance to 100% of what they can control. For example, baggage handling. Or passenger communications. There’s no excuse to make mistakes that are entirely under your control.

    3. Benchmark against the best in the industry. In business, performance is always relative to competition. Airlines still have to beat “the other guys” who have the same issues to deal with. Somehow Southwest has high customer sat and makes money while most airlines don’t.

    If you can’t control things like the weather, then telling the organization and customers that the goal is perfection will only lead to disappointment and actually hurt customer loyalty.


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