Great Customer Service: We Forget the Basic Stuff


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I love traveling and I love flying. However every time I am in an airport, I think that in customer service we are definitely forgetting the basics. We are thinking so much about knowing customers, their behaviours, their expectations, trying to establish relationships and giving them the best experience, that we are forgetting the minimum any human being expects. Relating to nice people and being heard.

How many times have you told your favorite airline that you like ailes. How many times have you gone thru an inmigration line without getting an answer from a good morning or a bonjour! How many times have you talked to airline agents who do not smile? or how many times have you been told “there is nothing we can do about it”. How many times have you had to wait until they hang up their mobile calls to get an answer?

The theory says that customer service has to do with people, with processes like handling complaints, and in many cases with too much technology. People with competences that include customer orientation, flexibility, patience. Processes that are customer centered and technology that allows efficiency and productivity.

However, customers are not processes, customers are not technology. Customers are people. Human beings. Human beings that like to talk to other human beings who are polite, who communicate with respect. Human beings who listen with attention to what you say and answer the question you asked (yes, not the one they had on their minds). Human beings who smile, who look at you when you talk to them, who use a tone that you do not find unrespectful.

Companies may have great customer processes, great technology, but if they do not have NICE people, RESPECTFUL people, and people who LISTEN, they will never have GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE.

As you may guess, I am writing this from an airport.
Have a great weekend.

Olga Botero
C&S Customers and Strategy
Olga is an Information Technology executive with over 20 years of experience with large corporations in financial services, telecommunications and technology. She is the founding partner at C&S Customers and Strategy. Previously she has been CIO of Grupo Bancolombia, Director of Customer Service, Marketing Operations and Corporate Sales at Orbitel (UNE Telecomunicaciones) and Director of Quicken Business Unit at MECOsoft.


  1. Yes…. you are 100% right. Why not leave the MBA talk around CRM behind, atleast for a day, and truely think what customers want at bare minimum…. with too much hipe on customer insight, 360% view etc… are we missing the basics of business???

  2. Olga

    All of us who fly frequently, or use almost any of today’s industrialised services recognise your situation. Processes that are broken. Technology that is inflexible. Staff that aren’t empowered. A whiff of utter helplessness in the air. And queue after queue of unsatisfied customers. Service, but not in the normal sense of the word! The only surprise about the old lady who actually smashed up a Comcast office with a sledgehammer is that it doesn’t happen more often.

    But there are antidotes to the bout of dis-service in which we find ourselves. Using frameworks like the Gaps Model to design service operations. Methodologies like customer-centric design. And adopting a lean consumption approach to service process design. One of the easiest though is for senior management to spend at least a day a month doing a front-line job. There is nothing like looking after an overwhelmed unaccompanied minor between long-haul flights to make the service you manage human. I know, I did one day a week airside on front-line duties when I worked for British Airways.

    As the western economies edge towards a recession and managing costs becomes critical for survival, management must take real care that they don’t lose sight of customer satisfaction for the service delivery system. Dr. CRM’s prescription, a dose of customer reality on the front-line.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

    Readability Index: 11

  3. Hi Olga,

    Unfortunately, not all hired employees are really good at Customer Service.
    Many times, they are not even hired to be at a customer service point, and they should be doing some other job in the enterprise, with excellent results.
    In the book “Why Service Stinks…and what to do about it”, T. Scott Gross describes what a “service natural” is, and what a difference it makes when they are serving your customers instead of a normal employee.
    Service naturals, though, are a “scarce species” (maybe on their way to extinction), and when you discover one, he or she must be dearly kept and rewarded (not necessarily on hard cash, but encouragement).
    Besides, it is almost impossible to train an employee to be a service natural while, on the other hand, it’s (rather) easy to train a service natural to provide customer service on most disciplines.

    Best Regards

    Jose Luis Perez
    Technology Consultant

  4. Jose

    Great post. As you say, not all staff are customer service naturals. Selecting, training and supporting those who are is an oft forgotten part of customer service excellence.

    One tool that I have seen used to identify the naturals is emotional intelligence. There is a lot of good work on how high EQ staff in customer service identify better solutions for customers, generate higher satisfaction in customers and earn additional revenue from follow-on sales. Win, win, win.

    Take a look at the The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organisations at Rutgers University if you want to find out more.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  5. While I completely agree that some people are naturals at customer “service” and just plain getting along with people, I took from Olga’s post that she was talking about the basics. You can teach your employees to smile. You can require that they say, “hi” when they first see you and, most importantly to me, “thank you,” when they’re finished serving you.

    There’s definitely a question of how to find good employees and whether you should have hired someone to begin with. But once you have hired the employee, it’s your job to see that the employee is putting the best face on your organization. I encounter completely friendly sales clerks, who chat with me and—when I’m at a pet store, for instance—ask me about my dogs. I love that. But still, when it comes time to hand me my bag, these perfectly empathetic clerks wait until I thank them for handing me that bag. That’s not because they were not suited for the job. It’s entirely because no one spelled out to them that merchants are supposed to thank the customers for their business—and that they represent the merchants.

    Gwynne Young, Managing Editor, CustomerThink

  6. Gwynne

    Great point. And a real world one too.

    I remember being told by a PwC Consulting colleague who had been a stewardess in a previous life, that most airlines just couldn’t find enough customer service naturals to be aircrew. People who just loved helping passeners and one another. So they were forced to take people that they would preferred not to have and to train them as best as they could in passenger service skills. She said that she could spot the naturals a mile away. They just behaved so naturally when it came to helping customers. Even under pressure when faced with difficult delays or unreasonable passengers.

    It is nice to have the choice. But as you say and as my example illustrates, you don’t always have one. Then it is time for Plan B!

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  7. Great customer service comes not from the willingness to serve, but the ability to empathize. After all, who is willing to put oneself in other’s smelly shoes?

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at

  8. Daryl

    Take a look at Parasuramn, Zeithaml & Berry’s SERVQUAL framework for measuring the drivers of service quality.

    SERVQUAL identified five clusters of factors that drive service quality:

    • Reliability
    • Assurance
    • Tangibles
    • Empathy
    • Responsiveness

    In literally hundreds of different studies, reliability has generally found to be the most important factor for customers. That means standardised processes, trained staff and the ability to handle customers consistently. Empathy is very important, but it is only one of a number of factors. And perhaps not the most important from the customer’s perspective.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  9. Graham

    Reliability of service is the service outcome. However, service is much more than results; it is about how people manage the process and customer expectations.

    Further research about RATER, the service delivery attributes, suggests that the other four factors, which relate to the service process, are the keys to exceeding customer expectations.

    Great customer service comes from exceeding customer expectations.

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at

  10. Many of the comments made about customer service are all fine and good as they all relate to what those making the posts believe the type of service they and customers want and what they receive.

    What is the genesis of the lack of customer service? It is not that giving poor service is what people want to be known for. People do not have poor customer service in their genes. The service employees who interface with the public give customers is directly related to the way management sees employees as customers and visa versa. Yes, each are customers of the other. Management is asking employees to “buy” the policies and procedures management puts out; management are employees’ customers in that they are asking management to accept what they have to offer — their skills, ideas and, more important, their ideas and suggestions which, unfortunately, management does not give the same credence as they say they give the firm’s customers offer . . . which, maybe they don’t give any credence to. Hence, customer service only reflects the attitude and actions of customer service that takes place within the firm or organizaion.

    Changing from poor serivce to good service to Good Service to GOOD Service does not stop here. If customers want better customer service, they have two choices: one, to register complaints, not against the employee, but against the business or organization. Two, they can take their business to another resource or use something else that will do the same thing. Accepting the status quo and complaining to family, friends,etc. will not get it to change. If we want better customer service we will not get it until it customers demand more than just lip service from management says in speaches, advertisments, etc.

    The comments in this article go to a previous discussion on employees being ambassadors for the firms and organizations they work for. The management of a business or firm is known by the level of services their employees give. If there is poor service, it is management that should carry the blame by the working environment they have or have not created.

    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador of Selling, Attitudes for Selling
    [email protected]
    Winner of the Murray Award for Marketing Excellence
    Member, PNW Sales & Marketing Group
    Member, Institute of Management Consultants


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