Good, Old-Fashioned, Customer Service

Just Keep Your Promises, and You’re Almost There!

October 3, 2002

Even a no-tech example can showcase best practices in providing customer service. Whether it be carpet cleaning or B2B contract negotiation, the same basics apply.


A Clean Carpet!

Just yesterday, a colleague raved about her carpet cleaners. “They came to do an estimate exactly when they said they would! They gave me a written quote! The said they would call to confirm the time and date for the cleaning, and they did! They showed up when they said they would! Whenever they encountered something unexpected (like a stain that would require stronger cleaning fluids that might damage the fibers), they asked me if I wanted them to proceed! They finished the job in under the time they quoted! They charged me exactly what was on the written estimate! And they left me a bottle of carpet cleaner with instructions on how to use it, with their phone number in case I needed assistance!” (This exceptional service was provided by Regal Fabric Care and Rug Cleaners of Malden, Massachusetts, 781.397.0425.)

What’s the Big Deal?

So why was Susan so excited? It was because the entire experience went as expected, there were no surprises, and she was treated well.

To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed that she reacted so positively, because this is what all customer service experiences should be like: positive and without (negative) surprises. But, unfortunately, we have been conditioned to expect much less. Nowadays, if we get what we asked for at all--even if it takes a long time and is unpleasant every step of the way--we often consider ourselves lucky.

Providing Less is Dangerous

However, we do get our revenge. Whenever possible, we never do business with that company again. And we tell our friends. Little by little, the company who fails to deliver a positive customer experience watches its customer base erode and its reputation tumble.


So what did Regal Fabric Care do right? It merely delivered on a customer scenario, providing what it determined the customer wanted at each step. Let’s break it down:

* Showing up when they said they would.

* Following up with a phone call as promised.

* Checking with the customer when something outside of the predetermined scope of the job was encountered.

* Meeting the agreed-upon deadline.

* Meeting the agreed-upon price.

* Providing extra value and reassurance.

Following the Customer’s Scenario

We define a customer scenario as the steps a customer wants to take to achieve a specific outcome. In this case, Susan’s goal was to get her wall-to-wall carpets cleaned, and her desired outcome was, indeed, clean carpets.

So let’s look at the steps Susan wants to take to get clean carpets.

  1. She wants to easily contact a reputable carpet-cleaning company.
  2. She wants to arrange, by telephone, a date and time for an in-her-house estimate visit and for that visit to take place.
  3. She wants a written quote on the total cost of the job.
  4. She wants to negotiate a convenient date and time for the carpet crew to come do the cleaning while she was at work.
  5. She wants the work done efficiently and well.
  6. She wants to pay no more than the estimate.
  7. She wants to enjoy her clean carpets.

Regal obviously understood what Susan wanted to do--probably this is the scenario that most of their residential customers follow. And, in most cases, they followed her steps exactly. They did add a wrinkle that Susan didn’t initially want, namely that Susan be present while the cleaning was done. Experience had taught them that, even though customers think they would prefer to be away during the actual cleaning process, it was more important to the customers that they be available to make decisions on issues that may arise during the cleaning process. To make this trade-off less painful, the company arranged to be there early in the morning (between 8 and 9 a.m.) and guaranteed that the cleaning would take less than 1.5 hours (it took 1 hour almost to the minute).

And a cleaning issue did arise--there was one spot on the carpet that couldn’t be removed with the standard cleanser (and the written quote had indicated that this stain might not come clean). The head of the Regal crew recommended trying a stronger product, stating that he was fairly confident that it wouldn’t hurt the carpet, but that he couldn’t guarantee it 100 percent.

Susan took his advice, but the stain was stubborn. The cleaning expert offered to try a stronger solvent, but advised that it might hurt the carpet fabric. Susan opted to live with the stain.

The important point was that she was allowed to make the decision, and, because the expert provided her with the appropriate information, she was able to make an informed decision. Susan felt that staying home for that extra hour or so was well worth the opportunity to have her wishes taken into consideration, rather than having the crew “guess” at what she would choose.

Keeping Promises

Most of the steps Regal took fulfill one simple rule--keep your promises. When Susan and the Regal representative negotiated dates, times, and price, the company treated the negotiated results as promises to keep. Too often, companies see these negotiations as guidelines or even just random suggestions--think about your last automobile repair, or look at your final shopping cart once shipping charges and things like restocking fees are added.

Even more dissatisfying is when the company refuses to enter into negotiations at all--you can never get to the point where a promise is even implied.

No (Unpleasant) Surprises

Similarly, it is important to set customer expectations and to live up to these expectations. (In a different scenario, a friend found himself in a multi-day hospital stay for extensive testing. Although not the most patient of patients--forgive the pun--he was nonetheless relaxed and willing to wait because the hospital staff set his expectations well, letting him know that a certain test would take place within a given time unless there was an emergency, in which case, he would be notified.) Customers are very forgiving when they are kept informed and told what to expect.

Pleasant surprises are welcome (when appropriate--clearly, you don’t want to celebrate a clean carpet with a ticker-tape parade through the living room). In this case, Susan was provided with a complementary bottle of cleaning solvent so she could provide the upkeep on her carpet herself. The fact that the solvent bottle had a label with Regal’s logo and phone number was just a fortuitous bit of marketing for the company. Going that little extra distance for the customer cements the relationship.

Susan has now told at least eight people about her experience. And I am now telling thousands more! And that’s why you make and keep your promises--to take advantage of your best marketing vehicle--word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers.


This was an old-fashioned customer-service scenario where the highest tech was the telephone. But the lessons learned apply to all customer interactions:

  • Negotiate promises with your customers!
  • Keep those promises!
  • Set realistic expectations!
  • No surprises!
  • Understand how your customers want to do business with you!

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