A few weeks ago, I dedicated an entire week to postings about customer service, related to an organized blogging event dedicated to the customer service-related book “Delivering Happiness.” Additionally, some of you know I have just moved to a new city. As such, I have gotten lots of opportunities to get myself into more customer service situations than usual (receiving, not giving).

Just for a few examples: I had my car serviced before making the drive from the Boston area to the Cleveland area, I worked with movers to move a household full of goods, got a new washer/dryer delivered, and had cable service installed.

In these activities, I have noticed a new trend in customer service for consumer purchases and services. That trend is to tell the customer that they will receive a phone call with a survey about the service, that you will be allowed to rate the service you just received (from the person telling you about this). They will also inform you that only a 5 (excellent) is a passing grade.

Huh? Only an “excellent” is passing? I think this is missing the point of good customer service. While it’s true that every customer should be treated as equally as possible and to get a uniform level of service, putting the pressure on the customer to give someone the top grade isn’t the same as letting the customer just give the grade they truly feel meets the service.

Personally, as a human being, and in these hard times with jobs, I would probably just give everyone a 5 unless they did a terrible job. Unless they were terrible, I wouldn’t want to be the cause of a failing grade which could lead to something terrible, like the person losing their job. But when I think honestly about who really deserves that top grade, it would only be the person that took care of my car and the people that delivered the washer/dryer. Somewhat unfairly, these are also the simplest of the services I received – the easiest ones to get right (although many don’t).

Likewise, in our own industry, we sometimes do the same thing to our customers. We directly ask them, face-to-face, “Are you happy? Did I do a good job? Would you use my product/services, again?” And, almost all of them will say “yes” and be rather enthusiastic about it.  Some of that good humor might come from your services or product but, let’s be really honest about it – some people are just too nice to give you the bad news, face-to-face. They can be especially hesitant about hurting your feelings, directly. While there are plenty of blunt people that we deal with, we also have a tendency to lump every good remark we get into the category of being true. We love hearing good things about our services/products and don’t want to question it too much.

And so, as I hear anyone saying that their customers universally think their company is terrific, it is not surprising for their customers to also complain to me about that same company. Customers are not always comfortable giving negative feedback directly to the person who is asking them. Unfortunately, it’s often easiest to complain to a stranger who can’t do anything about the situation.

By the way, it’s important to have the conversation with customers about how they view the service they’re receiving – I’m not trying to discourage that. I’m just saying that it’s not quite that simple. Customers are people, too, and people are complicated. For those of us that deliver products and services, it’s too easy to see customers as our revenue (instead of as human beings) and to oversimplify the process of finding out what they really think. Or, maybe we don’t even want to know because, if we did, we’d have to stop letting our sales people say things like, “Every customer we’ve asked says we’re GREAT!”

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

One Thought to “Customer Service: Missing the Point”

  1. Bill Tumbleson

    I completely agree with the sentiment about “only a 5 is passing.” Have seen it so much that I no longer respond to those surveys and take a separate route instead. When I receive excellent service I go out of my way to find the manager and let them know. This happened recently and I think it is important (in all areas, not just retail) to do this sort of thing because when you do you are providing the management with an unsolicited mini-performance review of their employees.

    As a consultant I think that we always try to deliver our best services at all times and, as you suggested might occur, we do ask our clients about their satisfaction level. I think that it is important to try to let the client know that when you ask for the data, you want to get to the heart of what they really think. Without that feedback, you don’t know where to improve. Nothing is more cruel than to hear, “good job” to your face and then find out later the client was not happy with you. I want the opportunity to improve.

    So I will never tell my client that only an excellent remark is passing, but I will tell them that I appreciate frankness that helps me serve them and other clients better.

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