The challenge with ‘great customer service’ is the people

The phrase ‘outstanding customer service’ has been bandied around for decades – but as the recession makes the majority turn to trusted brands and value outstanding service over ‘cheap’ perceived value, the focus is really building now.
In my view, there are two types of businesses when it comes to outstanding customer service:
Type 1. Big businesses that have built their USP, or defined their brand, as having great customer service. Examples might be Zappos, Amazon, Apple, Virgin (though some may disagree),  John Lewis Group. Please share your examples below.
Type 2. Start-ups that grow organically so, up to a certain size, they deal with customers on a one-to-one basis making them personable, solution-focused and human! In these instances, great customer service is seen as a major cornerstone of their brand, a sentiment we very much agree with.
Whilst I have no-doubt that there will be many examples in both proof and dispute of the above, it does seem that there is a void in between the two. It seems that unless customer service is given the kind of focus where it becomes a major pillar of the business strategy it does just become something to pay lip-service to. I believe this is because changing it means huge investment in people.
Unfortunately, I was brought to consider this conundrum this morning on my commute over to the A Suit That Fits office, as I encountered a ten abreast queue, about half a mile long, to get on the Jubilee line. I’m not much for patience, so was in the process of inspecting my blackberry tube map to work out an alternative route when I overheard another potential passenger talking with a member of National Rail staff. Said potential passenger was not at all irate – he merely wanted to know whether the Jubilee line was actually running. The national rail staff member was also perfectly pleasant, jovial in fact. But it was what he said as he squeezed through the crowds that entertained me:
“They tell us it is running, it is just overcrowding. I’m National Rail staff [brandishing his National Rail blue vest], it’s nothing to do with me, we’re doing them a favour up here managing their queues for them”
Thinking about it from his perspective, I totally understand his frustration. Their already busy mornings have been completely disrupted by what he believes to be TFLs perceived failure, and they are being kind in helping them out, and taking all the grief. I do get it – but what would Waitrose have done? There would probably have been regular apologies, frequent status updates, information on alternative routes and umbrellas and cups of tea for those waiting outside!
Clearly I’m exaggerating to make the point – but even a minimal change to his response would have made a huge difference to the customer here. A simple apology for not knowing a lot, with a more constructive and less us-vs-them attitude would have shifted the response to be much more customer-centric. Same time taken to respond – very different result.
But it doesn’t need to start here. One of the main factors that we champion at The Consumer Forum, which brands like A Suit That Fits, Ellas Kitchen and LoveFilm are part of, is recognition for good service – especially peer-to-peer recognition. It is not complex or costly to change – it simply requires a shift in culture and the  result can be dramatic for customer relations.
I’m sure there will be numerous good and bad customer service examples, so please do comment below.
Written by Christina at The Nurture Network: The on-demand marketing department for start-ups and entrepreneurs – making expertise and resource available just when it is needed