Really achieving great customer service: How can you do it (and how you can really get it wrong)

great customer service

Readers of this blog know that one of my favourite rants and peeves is against the phrase: “We offer great customer service.” You can’t say it. Customers need to use these words voluntarily.

An inverse observation of these remarks occurs when I reviewed social media postings from a hotel in San Jose, CA, where Google will be hosting me and a few hundred help forum Top Contributors in November. I invited my wife to join me (air fare would be her expense, but she could share the hotel room.)

She balked, cringing at some really awful TripAdvisor reviews about the hotel’s cleanliness. (There were positive reviews as well, but some of the comments were downright nasty and scary. In light of my policy to negatively identify specific businesses and organizations, I won’t tell you which hotel it is, although it is part of a major international chain.)

In answering a complaint, the manager used words like this on more than one occasion.

We are rated very high on our level of cleanliness, but the reality of it is that we do, on occasion, have mishaps.


Let’s look at the complaint:

FILTHY and poorly managed front desk.
I cannot begin to tell the whole story, from probs checking in to fingernail on the desk and cruddy dirt, dust and vomit. My cc wasn’t working so front desk manager gave few options other than telling me she was doing me a favor by accepting my husbands credit card she cut off from any room service or restaurant service to be charged back to the room. It wasn’t until following night card worked in bar and desk manager told me it’s because I didn’t insert it into chip reader So much more I can’t even write here it was awful. This was my seventh stay at this hotel and I was shocked that the dust from seven years ago is still in the room.

If this were an isolated complaint, we might see it as sour grapes from a disgruntled client. But there were many more. (The really negative reviews were mixed in with very positive reports, making for an inconsistent story.)

Nevertheless, obviously this hotel has some serious issues and I think it behooves management to take a look at what has gone wrong, right away.

“Great customer service” is a necessity, it isn’t a marketing message. Seth Godin suggests you can start by looking at your IT and business processes in improving things.

All it takes is effort
Customer service used to be a great divide. Well-off companies would heavily invest in taking care of customers, others would do the minimum (or a bit less). Of course, back then, organizations couldn’t possibly give you all the service you might dream of. They can’t all afford to answer the phone on one ring, it’s expensive to hire enough operators and train them. And they certainly can’t dedicate an operator just to you, someone who would know your history and recognize your voice.

Today, though, when more and more of our engagements are digital, it doesn’t take an endless, ongoing budget to delight people. All an organization needs to do is care enough (once) to design it properly.

To make a process that is easy to use, clearly labeled and well designed.

To build a phone system that doesn’t torture you and then delete everything you typed in.

To put care into every digital interaction, even if it’s easier to waste the user’s time.

[Insert story here of healthcare company, cable company or business that doesn’t care enough to do it right. One where the committees made the process annoying. Or where the team didn’t cycle one more time. Or where the urgency of the moment takes attention away from the long-term work of system design. The thing is, if one company can do the tech right, then every organization with sufficient resources and motivation can do the tech right.]

The punchline is simple: In consumer relations and service, good tech is free.

It’s free because it pays for itself in lower overhead and great consumer satisfaction and loyalty.

But it requires someone to care enough to do it right.

Perhaps we need to change the recording to, “due to unusually lazy or frustrated design and systems staff (and their uninvolved management), we’re going to torture you every single time you interact with us. Thanks for your patience.”

The customer service/experience is one area where you can’t afford to get it wrong, but you can’t get ahead by making excuses or denying problems, and you can’t brag about getting it right. Your clients need to do the talking (and when they do, if the news is good, you can certainly help share the word.)

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