Gimme That Old Time Customer Service

A Little Special Attention Can Entice New Customers

November 1, 2013

Even if your product or service is better than the next guy’s, poor customer experience can sour a deal. The providers we go back to over and over again provide good, old fashioned, personal customer service that makes customers feel cared for and cared about.


We all know the importance of customer relationships and the impact they have on sales and loyalty. But we sometimes forget the value that personal attention brings to the party. Someone going out of their way to help out a potential customer, or spending valuable time with a prospect without putting on the hard sell will engage that individual in a way that product and service offerings can’t.

Bad or impersonal customer service can lose repeat business whereas the goodwill that results from the personal touch will reap rewards.

You often have to give a little to get a lot. What is your strategy for giving a bit of that old time customer service that comes from the heart of your people as well as the philosophy of your organization?

Needham Service Center via Google Maps

 Needham Service Center via Google Maps

© 2013 Google Maps

1. Pure luck brought us to a service station where service was front and center.


Grumpy Service Loses a Potential Repeat Customer

Last week, Patty Seybold and I gathered with our Customer Experience Champion, Fanny Wong, for a planning meeting over Thai food. The food was delicious; the service less so. Although the food arrived promptly, it took a very long time for the waitress to take our order and bring our bill. And she never cracked a smile, choosing, apparently, to invite us to share her bad mood rather than celebrate our good mood. As a result, as good as the food was, I’m disinclined to go back to that restaurant.

Service Above and Beyond!

HELPING WITHOUT BEING ASKED. When we left, and Patty and I got to my car to drive to our next destination, I noticed that my front right tire was severely low. Rather nervous about driving on it, we noticed a gas station a block away, but it didn’t have an air pump! So we drove about four more blocks and found a service station with a visible air pump. Like many service stations nowadays, you had to feed the pump quarters to make it work. Luckily, between the two of us, we had lots of change and started the pumping process. Just a few seconds into me bending over and removing the air nozzle cap on my tire, a gentleman from the station came over and offered to help. Although I’ve pumped up low tires many times in my life, he was charmingly insistent. I happily let him get his hands dirty and fill my tire to full pressure.

PROVIDING ADDITIONAL VALUE. “The machine will stop at 32 pounds of pressure unless you tell it a different number,” Jack Sparks, the owner of Needham Service Center, informed me. “But even though these tires maybe should be filled up to 35 pounds in the summer, since it’s getting colder out, 32 pounds is better.” I found this information extremely useful, since I am not very good at automotive issues, and always wondered what the optimum tire pressure should be.

ENSURING THAT THE CUSTOMER WAS GOOD TO GO. After the tire was full, he insisted on checking all my other tires, even though they looked fine. Good thing he did, since two others were getting a bit low. He also asked me to drive slowly forward and then backwards to see if there was a reason my front tire had been almost flat. Sure enough, he found a nail firmly embedded.

GOOD SERVICE RESULTED IN BUSINESS AND GOOD WORD OF MOUTH. “I can fix that up really quickly for you, just a minute or two,” he told me, adding, “It will be $20. Is that okay?” Since that’s the price that my beloved Hynes Auto Repair (my long time repair shop) also charges, I knew it was the going rate, and said that it was fine. In two minutes, the nail was out and the tire was patched.

Jack, Patty, and I chatted for a few minutes as I complimented him on his great service and he responded with charm and grace. He also asked if either of us lived in Needham. “No, sorry,” I replied, “But we know a bunch of people who do, and we will spread the word.” Consider the word spread!


Customer Service Vital in Both Cases

I have had a debate with others in the customer experience field who claim that there is a difference in the type of service demands when offering commodity products/services versus differentiated products/services. Some question how important customer service is when the (differentiated) offering is obviously superior.

In the examples above, fixing a tire (or a car) is basically a commodity service: it is either fixed or not, and the tools and methods to do so are common from repair shop to repair shop. Thus customer service (such as how long the repair takes, how you are treated by the staff, and extras, such as rides home or free loaners) is a major differentiator. True, there are some repair shops that just do a bad job, but it still comes down to fixed or not. There is always another service station that will fix your car just as well, but will treat you better.

Contrast that with a differentiated service, such as the food served at a Thai restaurant. Because the quality, creativity, and specific flavors of the dishes vary from restaurant to restaurant, a customer’s decision to return again and again begins with the food. And, I admit, the food at the restaurant where we ate was excellent—perhaps even better than most. But service is still a big factor. I will remember the sour service of the waitress long after I will delight over the hot and sour soup. Even if you offer the best product/service, customer service is still part of the equation and may well end up being the determining factor of whether you become a returning customers or you go for something almost as good, but with a superior overall experience.


Service Loss Leaders

Just as retail stores lure customers in with loss leaders—items on enormous sale to get buyers in the door with hopes that they continue shopping for other items—so too are there service loss leaders. For example, besides its daily deals (product loss leaders—see Illustration 2), Staples offers free PC security checks (see, again, Illustration 2) in hopes that you indeed need service or, even better, new components or accessories. This free service may bring potential customers in the doors of the retail establishment, but, if the customer service isn’t stellar, it’s unlikely that the customer will end up spending much money at the store.

Similarly, on our website,, we offer loss leader product—actually free access to much of our research—hoping to engage customer-focused individuals within organizations to follow what we write about and consult about. (See Illustration 3.) We also offer a service loss leader with an offer of a free 30-minute telephone discussion of the customer-centric strategy and projects that customers might be facing. (See, again, Illustration 3.) Of course, in an ideal world, these conversations will lead to consulting relationships—and, indeed, they have, although often the conversations are the beginning of an ongoing relationship that doesn’t result in consulting projects until months later. But we also learn so much by talking to those of you out there facing customer-related challenges that it informs our research and our thinking.

Honest Effort to Help or Sales Pitch?

Now, the skeptics of you might think that Jack Sarkis had only helped me out in hopes of making the $20 tire repair sales or soliciting a new customer. Staples uses sales and free computer check ups to get foot traffic to their stores in order to increase sales and up the value of each buying transaction. And we offer telephone sessions just to rope you in to paying consulting gigs. Well, you’d be right, to some extent. But who cares? Every business owner, sales person, and even customer support representative hopes to make sales and recruit new customers or additional revenue (or loyalty) from existing customers. That’s their jobs (or, for CSRs, a secondary function of their jobs).

But I believe that Jack would help anyone with an automotive issue (like filling tires) because 1) he’s a nice guy and wants to help out middle aged women like me, and 2) because he understands the importance of a personal relationship in customer service to help your business thrive. Similarly, we truly enjoy talking to like-minded business people about customer-centric activity. Improving customer relationships is both our bread and butter and our passion.

The simple lesson to be learned from this encounter is that…(more)


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