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Would you like fries with that?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Customer service. We all talk about it. We all go on about how it’s the thing that makes the difference between our business and our competitors’. We all like to think we give it. We all like to think we understand what we mean by it.

Do we ever really give it more than just lip service? Do we occasionally go that extra mile for our mates – or those whom we think will be spending the biggest bucks with us – and leave those we don’t know as well to manage as best they can?

Do we ever know full well where we can get a “red 5in widget thingy” that the pain-in-the-neck customer is asking for, but just can’t be bothered to put the effort in?

Do we ever fail to fully understand who out customers are, all of them, and treat the paying ones rather better than those in our own businesses?

Or do we understand that customers come in all guises, shapes and sizes and we treat them equally badly or equally well?

The answer is Yes. All of us do all of these things some of the time.

It’s easy to forget that the accounts department, for example, can be classed as your customers, just as much as the people at the trade counter are. The accounts department needs invoices passing on time in order to get the books to balance. Having that signed invoice on your desk for a fortnight while you go on holiday, does no-one any service favours (Oops, sorry). Nor, members of the IT team, does skipping off to lunch ‘because the server’s down’, do anyone trying to meet a deadline any either.

Companies talk all the time about their customer service ethos, but when it comes down to it, the delivery often fails to match the talk at the point of delivery – the human point. And, conversely, that is exactly the same point at which customer service often excels.

Good customer service is not telling the person who just wants a few metres of pipe and a diverter valve for a downpipe/water butt combo “nah, mate, we don’t have anything like that” – Yes, Mr National Plumbers Merchant, I’m looking at you. Good customer service is “I’m not sure what exactly you need but I’ll look it up for you. Oh, we don’t have everything in stock. Is it OK if I order it and get it delivered to your house first thing in the morning?” Thank you, lovely lady from Screwfix, that would be super.

Good customer service is not issuing an apology voucher that can only be used in-store, when half your decent products are only available online – national DIY chain allied to a catalogue-only store, take step forward. Good customer service is putting up with two dozen phone calls and frequent new sets of measurements to ensure that yes, the doors do fit into the space available. Independent local merchant, take a bow.

With so much of our general lifestyle purchasing moving online, it would be easy to think that the customers get more anonymous and it’s easier not to do the extras that make all the difference. But sometimes, good customer service isn’t about going the “extra mile”, it’s about noticing stuff and acting upon it. Like spotting that an online order hasn’t gone through properly and ringing the mobile number left on the order form to rearrange payment and delivery. Then popping a postcard in the package to say ‘thanks for the order. I hope you like the lights’. Kristen from Scotlight Direct, I love them.

Do as you would be done by – it’s trite, it’s clichéd and we can’t be expected to adhere to it every single time, we’re only human. But it’s lovely when it happens right.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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