Is Customer Service Dead?


By Jill Button, President & CEO ProcurePro Consulting  

I’ve experienced great customer service and I’ve experienced horrible customer service. It can make or break a company. Done right it can propel a company’s success to new heights or garner a less than favourable reputation and negatively impact your bottom line. With the prevalence of online reviews used by customers, it’s even more critical to deliver exceptional customer service.  

Bad customer service, unfortunately, is experienced in our everyday life, like at the Tim Hortons drive-through and being hurriedly handed my coffee and bagel without so much as a “hello”, “thank you” or “have a nice day”.   

There is truly worse customer service out there, however I bring this up because my very first paid job was in fast-food, (other than unpaid child labour working in my parents’ restaurant). My first job was at McDonald’s at the young age of 15, making $2.67 an hour Canadian.  Yep!  That’s not a lot. One thing my time at McDonald’s taught me over 45 years ago was that customer service was one of the most important things they trained their employees on, despite it being a fast-food restaurant. We were admonished if we did not greet the customer, thank them for coming to the restaurant and wish them a great day. This experience stuck with me throughout my entire career, and so I notice it as I’m driving through the Tim Hortons drive-through that they care more about speed than they do the customer experience. While I don’t think my dissatisfaction at Tim Hortons will impact their overall profitability, I do believe that enough of us who share the same view on customer service may just have an impact.  

I’m a fanatic when it comes to customer service whether I’m on the receiving end or when my team and I are delivering services through my company ProcurePro.  Here are a few personal examples of exceptional customer service: 

1. Double Tree Double Take 

 One of the earliest experiences I can recall was when I was attending a conference in Seattle for Microsoft. I was booked at the Doubletree Hotel, and my experience and the accommodation were great until the last night. My colleague and I decided to enjoy dinner at the on-site restaurant. While waiting for our surf and turf, after what seemed like several hours, the waitress apologized for the long wait and explained that one of her colleagues was leaving. It was their last night, and the entire staff was celebrating her farewell.  

 My colleague and I, hoping to catch an in-room movie, (before OnDemand was a thing), were unfortunately served our meal too late to eat in the dining room. We were forced to take our meal to go so we could catch the movie. You can imagine our disappointment, expecting to eat in a four-star restaurant but instead being forced to eat out of Styrofoam containers. When we arrived back at our room, excited to watch the movie, we discovered that the in-room entertainment system wasn’t working. It seemed that the night was not going our way. Were we not only eating cold steak and lobster now we couldn’t even relax and watch a movie.  

When the repairman arrived to fix the entertainment system, he noticed we were eating our dinner out of takeout containers. He asked what happened and we joked about it being our last night and how we seemed to be jinxed. To our surprise, he took the opportunity to arrange for the kitchen to send up a fresh meal on plates with silverware and added a complimentary glass of wine for each of us, completely free of charge. We were stunned; we didn’t expect a TV repairman to care, let alone take notice of what we were eating. He completely turned our last night and our experience around for us.  

This stands out for me as one of the best examples of customer service where everyone was empowered as an ambassador of the hotel, to ensure every guest received outstanding customer service. That television repairman could’ve simply focused on repairing the TV oblivious to our guest experience, but he didn’t. He took the time to notice, listen, and to go above and beyond, looking for a way to make our experience exceptional. This is a story I repeat often, and whenever I travel, if ever possible, I stay in a Doubletree by Hilton 

2.Subaru Blues

My husband is fanatic about his Subaru and refused to part with his battered Outback that had an excess of 350,000 kilometres. Finally convincing him it was time to put it out of its misery, he purchased a used 2017 from a Subaru dealer almost an hour away. Looking to save some money he declined the extended warranty opting instead for the 5000-kilometre warranty that came standard.  

With just over 100 kilometres left before the warranty expired, the car broke down on the way to a weekend getaway. Limping home, the car was towed to the nearest dealership, Whitby Subaru. Despite having purchased the car from a competitor, the dealership went above and beyond to help my husband. Essentially ¾ of the engine had to be replaced costing over $11,000. Successfully advocating on behalf of my husband for the repairs to be covered by Subaru warranty, the dealership provided my husband a complimentary loaner car for two months (longer than he owned the car) while they repaired his. The head of Service and the GM of Whitby Subaru were in constant contact with my husband and I, providing updates on their progress and even offered a heavily discounted extended warranty to give us peace of mind once the car was fully repaired under warranty.  

This to me is a shining example of exceptional customer service!  We purchased the vehicle from a competitor, yet they jumped in to save us a potential repair bill of over $11,000 plus the cost of two months of car rental.  

3. Bedside Manners 

The final example of great customer service comes recently during my cataract surgery.  It’s the last place I expected to receive exceptional customer service.  It took me two years to find an ophthalmologist I was comfortable with (this is my eyesight we are talking about) who didn’t try to sell me on an overpriced and unnecessary lens not covered by our Ontario healthcare system. My wonderful surgeon, Dr. Yassein, took great care to explain my options for a replacement lens, recommend what I needed for my particular eye type and why (I also have an astigmatism), performed multiple measurements and examinations of my eye, and walked me through the entire process on what to expect before the surgery, the day of, and during post-op.  

As I prepared to have my surgery, I was, I’ll admit, a bit nervous. It had been a while since I had anesthesia, so I was a little concerned about the effects. As I arrived at the hospital, the surgical care team was wonderful, efficient, and caring. I was well looked after and assured by many of the team members of what to expect from the day, which went a long way to calm my fears. From the time I checked in for surgery to the time I was picked up by my husband, I was at the hospital for less than two hours. The next day, the surgeon examined my eye, talked about my care as well as my long-term prognosis. My other eye also has a cataract and will require surgery in the not-too-distant future. I won’t go anywhere else for my surgery and will tell everyone I know to seek out Dr. Yassein if they are in similar need.  

What an unexpected and seamless experience. This is an unexpected example, as I know many do not necessarily think of doctors delivering great customer service, but in this particular example, I’m compelled to highlight my surgeon for his exemplary care along with the outstanding surgical team at the Bowmanville Hospital.  

So, is customer service dead? 

I sincerely hope not but with the pace of change, automation and the insistence on speed at all costs, businesses are sacrificing exceptional customer service for speed and profits. I believe that it has to come through the culture of the organization. Just like McDonald’s, (at least 40 years ago when I worked there), every employee must be trained on the expectations of customer service and be provided with the correct systems for them to be able to do their best. This culture has to support the premise that without amazing employees, you cannot have amazing customer service, and you will not have customers who will want to come back again and again. This philosophy must permeate every business from a startup micro-business to the largest enterprise on a global scale. Let’s bring back great customer service, and with that, businesses, small and large, will see tremendous success. 

 As the great Maya Angelou once said;I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Exceptional customer service makes you feel respected, valued and heard. It gives the customer a sense you truly care about them and their experience even if it’s as simple as buying a cup of coffee.  

 5 Tips for Delivering Exceptional Customer Service: 

1. Invest in Employees – Place the employee first. Without happy employees you can’t have happy customers. Ensure that all employees are well-trained on customer service expectations. Equip them with the skills, knowledge, systems and processes necessary to deliver great (not just good) customer service.

2. Instil a Customer-Centric Culture – Make customer service a top priority within your company culture. Every employee, from top to bottom, should understand and be empowered to deliver exceptional service. 

3. Prioritize Personal Interactions – Implement systems that allow for meaningful, personal interactions between customers and employees. Avoid impersonal processes that hinder the development of relationships. 

4. Encourage Empathy and Proactivity – Cultivate a culture where employees are encouraged to empathize with customers. Proactively address issues before they escalate, demonstrating a commitment to customer satisfaction. 

5. Continuous Improvement – Regularly review and improve customer service processes. Solicit feedback from customers and employees to identify areas where you can push customer service to the next level.  

Let’s revive and prioritize great customer service. By doing so, businesses not only enhance customer satisfaction but also pave the way for enduring success. After all, in a world where choices abound, exceptional customer service becomes the beacon that guides customers back, time and time again. 

Got a story about great or not so great customer service, we would love to hear from you.  

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