“Your call is important to us…”

As the snow settled in last March the central heating boiler stopped working on a Friday afternoon. Fortunately I have an annual contract with a well-known service organisation. So I phoned them.

I worked my way through the almost inevitable ‘press 1 for this, press 2 for that, press 5 for something else’, then listened to the ‘all our operators are too over-worked to be able to talk to you’ messages, interspersed with a piped music loop. I eventually got to speak with a human being – who told me I needed to call a different number! Which I did and, yes, started the game all over again.Customer service is about individuals

I eventually got to speak with another human being. Who confirmed that ‘Yes, of course, we’ll have an engineer with you … sometime during the day … next Thursday’. They best the could offer for my expensive annual fee was seven days without central heating! I tried to get an earlier appointment but eventually had to accept the date offered.

Small company service

A few minutes later I thought ‘what about local services?’ So I phoned a friend and got a recommendation for a local heating engineer. He answered the phone himself, immediately. He apologised that he couldn’t come right away but arrived at 8.30 AM next morning (Saturday) and sorted it out in about 15 minutes. Not only was his service fee small but he also showed me what to do in case the problem recurred – it didn’t, and still hasn’t.

Guess who will be looking after our boiler once the service contract expires in a few month’s time? And guess who we have since recommended to friends?

Big company service

Last Friday morning I phoned Dyson about a fault with our vacuum cleaner. No button-pressing telephone-tree to be negotiated this time. In fact, I was almost caught off-guard because the phone was answered so quickly and by a live human being. He then asked me to switch on the vacuum cleaner, listened to it (over the phone, of course) and diagnosed a motor problem which would require an engineer visit.

He checked the details and, yes, the machine (bought in March 2009) is still under guarantee. And, sorry, but the earliest he could have an engineer with us would be Monday i.e. next working day! Just like that – no need to take it to a service centre or go back to the store from which I bought it. Yes, our engineer will sort it out at your home on Monday morning. (The engineer phoned just after 9 AM today, Monday, saying he was 10 minutes away – and at 9.45 AM the machine was back in action.)

‘How’ does good customer service work?

Using NLP to think about ‘customer service’ we recognise that it doesn’t matter how important the company considers it nor how much or how little they invest in it. What matters is what is it like to be a customer of this company – especially when problems occur? And we rate this as ‘good customer service’ when the interaction pleases us. It’s that simple. And all the meetings, mission statements, focus groups, and feedback surveys in the world don’t amount to anything unless Joe Bloggs and Mary Smith are happy with their experience.

Good intentions are only ‘good’ if they produce happy customers who tell others…

The problem with growth

Most small companies know this. They know they have to get customer satisfaction to survive and grow. Those running such companies have closer contact with customers, treat them as people and usually enjoy their work.

But as the business grows and layers of middle management separate the business leaders from their customers the focus changes and problems occur. And it can get to the point where customer service is measured by numerical feedback statistics, number of calls handled and duration of call, and agency-delivered Customer Satisfaction Surveys.

How does Joe or Mary feel?

In the big company world how individual customers like Joe Bloggs or Mary Smith feel about dealing with the company – and how they feel the company feels towards them – can get lost in the measurement of trends and percentages “67.3 % of our customers rated us 4.25 out of 5 – that’s a 6% year on year improvement – we’re doing fine!” (No, you’re not. What about the one in three who rated you lower than that?)

Individual customers know when they do matter to a company. And they know when they don’t really matter to the company. How many of us believe the trite “We know you are waiting – your call is important to us” messages?  Customers are too sophisticated to fall for that, nowadays. They know that what’s really being said is:

Look, we’d like to have more customer service staff, of course. But that costs money. In fact, we’ve had to sack half of the team i.e. the ones remaining after the previous round of cuts. We’d value your loyalty if life weren’t so competitive. But loyalty is a long-term thing and we’ve got the quarterly figures to meet.

Here at Pegasus NLP we used to run an Anger Poll on one of our sites and the top anger-provoking trigger, by a long way and consistently, was ‘being spoken to in a patronising manner’. I think being patronised by companies would come pretty high if that were a question.

The times they are a changing – fast

The internet has changed the business model for dealing with individual customers (as opposed to dealing with other companies). People know they have choice. And social media is powerful. Through it Joe or Mary can be in a network of thousands of others.

Yes, brand loyalty matters. But it’s no longer something to be cultivated by media teams seeking Facebook ‘likes’. It’s about individuals – not trends. It’s also becoming more of a two-way thing.  Customer loyalty has to be valued and reciprocated – not exploited.


  1. martyn on 26th June 2013 at 8:17 AM

    And when we get it wrong…because we all do…the most powerful word – in my humble experience – is “sorry”. If used sincerely it can often take the emotion out of the situation. I have a fairly small user base (6,000) but still make it a point to spend time with whoever complains. As the person in the leadership role I think this conveys a lot – at least I hope so. I totally agree with the view on MI and the moment stats replace personal interaction the temperature inevitably goes up! So, getting back to basics: “the nature of communication is in the reponse you get”

    • Reg on 26th June 2013 at 7:34 PM

      A user base of 6,000 is quite respectable, I’d say. Yes, ‘getting it wrong’ is both the dread and the opportunity – to engage with the customer and to learn from her/him.

      We can aim for perfection while recognising it’ll never happen.

      Some of my best engagements with suppliers (in the very broad sense of the word) have occurred when they’ve screwed and have plainly and frankly worked to put it right. Those people I’m happy to give a second chance – and to recommend to others. Which I recently did with an Amazon Marketplace supplier of the second-hand Lenovo laptop I’m writing this on 🙂

      I bought it as a cheap back-up n case the super-duper one packed up. Now, it’s so good, I use it most of the time. Major screw-ups occurred – and it had to go back. But they sorted things out quickly and in a human way.

      That’s a company to model.

  2. Tim Maude on 29th June 2013 at 10:29 AM

    Great article Reg (by which I mean it confirms what I believe in!) I advise organisations on their IT services and find that so many of the senior management rely solely on management information to tell them what is going on. One manager recently was proud to tell me that his customer satisfaction figures had gone up every year for the past three years. But when I went to talk to some of the users, I found they had all sorts of problems – which they considered “the norm” and so never complained about them. I tell my clients about the GOYA management technique to supplement their management information … Get Off Your Arse and go and find out what the customers really think.

    • Reg on 30th June 2013 at 8:20 AM

      Hi Tim: Great points (and. I agree it is much easier to consider an article or reply ‘great’ if it matches our own stance).

      I think there’s something in this ‘managing by stats’ thing – and it may be to do with distancing ourselves from the messier and less-predictable ‘people’ side of things. In much the same way as so many managers will spend hours at the computer designing a powerpoint presentation rather than stand up and talk with people for 10 minutes.

      Your GOYA method hits the nail on the head – but I don’t see a great future for it. Who’d want to actually go and visit clients face-to-face when you can stay in the security of the office with your stats.