How NOT to Piss off Your Customers: Designing Great Customer Service

While there are many dangers and pitfalls of providing bad service, how can great service be achieved? Great experiences come from companies and employees who truly understand what it means to have an interaction with a customer.

Humans are judgemental bastards. As a man, if I show up to a speech in a dress, I will probably lose all the reputation and respect I have built over the years. As an author, include one spelling erro and next thing you know my book is being burned. Like it or not, we are constantly making judgements every second of our lives. “Oh, my soup is too salty.” “That man in the corner looks off.” “What a friendly waiter.” It is not a fault of ours- in fact our judgemental nature probably allowed us to survive for so long. This trait is something we need to be aware of, and cater for.

What does this mean for the service environment? Well it is not every day that your customer gets to interact with your company or your brand. From a few fleeting interactions, customers have the enormous task of judging how beneficial your product or service is to them on an emotional, financial, and/or spiritual level. What this means is that interactions should be held sacred- as if how you treat your customer in the very next second will make or break their opinion of you. In most cases, this is true.

These so called “moments of truth” convey to the customer who you are as a company, employee, or brand. One bad day can ruin relations with many customers- however, one incredible moment, and you may win the customer for life.

To increase customer service performance, consider how much you are meeting their expectations on the following scale:

Cheated – Disappointed – Satisfied – Happy – Delighted

Where “satisfied” is a service interaction which conforms to expectations, “happy” is one where the best possible outcome for customers are realised. “Delighted”, however is where you want to be. A customer who is delighted is so surprised at the level of care, service, and personalisation that they cannot stop telling others. While this is not difficult conceptually (just go the extra mile, right?) it is completely impossible without having a system which allows and encourages service employees to improvise.

John has a rare genetic condition which makes him allergic to various types of food at a restaurant. Usually when he tells waiters about his situation, he is met with a chuckle and perhaps a look of confusion or disbelief. This time, however, he receives a waiter who is a little different. “Of course, sir. I have heard of that before,” the waiter replies. “What did you say it was called? Certainly sir, I will ensure the chef is aware.” Five minutes later, the waiter returns with multiple sheets of paper. “I have looked into it, and I believe this is a complete list of ingredients you cannot have.” The waiter hands John the sheet, which contained a brief explanation of the condition as well as foods to avoid. “I have cross checked this with the dishes you have ordered tonight and spoken to the chef personally about it. Feel free to keep that list, in case you need to explain it to other restaurants in the future.”

This service interaction did require a little more work from our fancy waiter, but exactly how much more is required? The waiter needed to make a note of the condition name, or do a quick search for it based on the customer’s description. He then would need to print out the page, and cross-check the list with the ingredients used in the dish. Finally, he would have double-checked with the chef that his cooking utensils had not recently come into contact with such ingredients. All of this may have taken a few more minutes, but the confidence it would generate with John means that if John is ever unsure about which restaurant he can dine in without dying- or worse, being ridiculed, he can always come back to this restaurant.

By giving your employees the autonomy and trust required to improvise and improve on existing service templates as well as actively encouraging them to do so, you are empowering them to go above and beyond the call of duty. Most employees would be happy about the new powers they have to improve their ability to do their job right, and would be more than willing to help make customers delighted. Remember that a smile is a curve that sets things straight.

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