Customer Service – The Good The Bad and the Simply Ugly


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There’s a big difference between talking the talk and walking the walk when it comes to customer experience. It’s a brave business which doesn’t promote its customer service charter these days. Customers don’t like buying from arrogant, aloof, disdainful businesses. So companies make out they’re humble, approachable and concerned.

English: A business ideally is continually see...

But the truth can lie some distance from the marketing messages. Most companies are run by bean counters, and they are rarely humble, or approachable, or concerned. Most often, the businesses’ processes and systems are built to maximise company efficiency. As a consequence, customer service gets minimised. The bean counters usually win in the tug of war between cost of delivery and customer value.

Happily though they don’t always win. In a small number of stand out examples the business is focused first and foremost on happy customers. Those companies empower their front line people to deliver genuine service. Bean counters take a back seat, because customer facing staff are able to change rules which disadvantage the paying public. In our trilogy of sketches we celebrate Carphone Warehouse – a shining star in the black hole of despair buyers suffer at the hands of cell phone and gadget suppliers.

In other examples businesses recognise the conflict between internal efficiency and customer satisfaction, but don’t change anything. They simply charge their staff with making customers happy with the way they’re treated. Customer facing people don’t have authority to change anything. They have to absorb the pressure, and find ways to persuade the paying public to be satisfied with what they get. Our sketch about British Airways shows how a public commitment to service and satisfaction is merely a marketing message. BA goes to great lengths with its Executive Club in creating a special relationship with its frequent flyers, and makes heavy demands on its front line staff to make customers feel special. But its systems and processes seem entirely focused on how BA wants to operate its business, and not at all on customer service.

The two examples quoted are what we might categorise as The Good and The Bad of customer service. Our third category is the The Ugly, so named because of the blatant exploitation of the relationship between supplier and buyer. In this case the company makes no attempt to make systems and processes customer friendly, and doesn’t make demands on its staff either. It’s got you in its clutches and is going to exploit you, knowing you’ll come back so it can do it again. Our sketch about Tesco tells the story. No wonder its facing hard times, with competition on every front. It really is awfully bad at customer service.

Some businesses are virtual monopolies and can get away with forcing customers to tolerate bad service. Anybody wanting to fly from the UK regions to Chicago pretty much has no choice but to fly BA.

Other businesses are blinded by past success. The management thinks it has some secret sauce. The value proposition is so strong, customers will tolerate a little inconvenience. That appears to be the Tesco line. But Lidl style service at Tesco prices leaves a big gap for the other supermarkets to fill. History is littered with companies who could do no wrong, until they went bust.

Still more – unfortunately far fewer – make customer service their business. These are the ones without the monopoly power. Companies which can only survive by being the very best, because the others are so powerful. The stand out example is Carphone Warehouse. Everything it sells, customers could buy from its suppliers – the cellphone companies, or their suppliers, the gadget companies

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steven Reeves
Consultant, author, software entrepreneur, business development professional, aspiring saxophonist, busy publishing insight and ideas. Boomer turned Zoomer - thirty year sales professional with experience selling everything from debt collection to outsourcing and milking machines to mainframes. Blogger at Successful Sales Management. Head cook and bottle washer at Front Office Box.


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