Customer Service, At Best An Inexact Science

Time limited

In concept it seems so simple, so obvious, and so… easy to do.  However, in practice, it can be a near impossible task.  Delivering practical and appreciated customer service may sound easy, but it is often impossible for a company to consistently execute against the objective.

Admittedly, some companies don’t even put up a fight.  For years BellSouth cultivated a reputation of inferior service.  At the time, I can only imagine they realized the delivery of proper customer care was cost prohibitive and since they were largely a monopoly player the decision was a clear one – all sales little service.  Their approach has evolved with the changing marketplace and while they are not the best, I have found them to be considerably more capable and service oriented than in years past.

But this only examines a part of the equation.  As a consumer and participant in the customer/service equation, I find that I bring varying levels of expectation to the discussion.  And as a business process management consultant for most of the last 15 years, I also find that I sometimes bring a high level of expectation to the table.  As a rule, having high expectations is not a bad thing but admittedly I don’t always (re)consider my point of reference or point of contact.  After all, customer facing service departments often report the highest levels of turnover, which makes high value training a losing proposition.  Therefore, the roles in these units are highly managed and scripted and devoid of creative problem solving – and even intelligent discussion of an issue in extreme cases.

So if we consider a company’s service approach, the experience of the service representative, and the level of expectation we bring to the discussion, there are 3 levers which will ultimately influence our pass/fail service grade.


Consider my recently experiences with Comcast Cable over the last few months.  I mostly find that Comcast delivers a quality product but their service representatives have ranged from fantastic to “how-is-this-person-able-to-dress-themselves-for-work-everyday” levels of incompetence.

  • Back in August I called to price products and schedule an installation.  A 10 minute sale drags out to well over 2 hours and at least 5 agents as no one is able to adequately describe their program line-ups and pricing structures.  One agent is wholly unable to grasp that while my cell phone number is an Atlanta based area code, I’m actually calling about service in another state.
  • When I call back the next day to re-start my effort, I have much lower expectations and am pleasantly surprised when the representative is articulate and knowledgeable and able to close the sale in about 8 minutes.  I am then wowed when a manager joins the line to offer me free extended services and free installation as an apology for my previous day’s experience.
  • Fast forward a couple months when I’m experiencing a hiccup with my cable box.  After 2+ hours on hold, I give up and decide to try again the next morning.  Then, the next morning – again with much lowered expectation – my service issue is addressed in about 4 minutes.

In both 2-part instances, I ended up being wowed by the quality of service I received in the second stanza but only after suffering through a bad experience.  Had I encountered the second representative during my first call, I’d sing high praise to Comcast’s level of service, but I had to dull my level of expectation first by dealing with a layer of ineptitude.  However, the reality is that some folks do actually get the “good guys” on the first attempt. 

I certainly recall instances when I’ve been wowed by the support offered by a customer service rep at various companies with which I’ve dealt, but ironically, I can’t recall a single company.  I think that is because it is more about the representative themselves and the difference they are making as individuals rather than a philosophy of an entire organization.

And so as I look for a landing spot for this discussion, I find two conclusions or takeaways competing in my mind for print space.  I’ll share both:

First, approach a service opportunity as the customer with the realization that multiple attempts or calls may be required to find their most capable representative but be fair and realistic in allowing (read encouraging) everyone you encounter to be that person.

And second, recognize that we have the power to serve someone when they come to us with questions or in need of assistance.  Perhaps we’re not truly in a customer facing role, but we each have customers of our output and we’d do well to build our personal brands around delivering the “wow”.

 Photo By:  allspice1

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