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Customer Service: Get the Basics Right First John Freshney

As a customer service consultant I think that I am sometimes as guilty as anyone of over-analyzing customer service, looking for something really complex that drives the ideal customer experience.  The other week I had an enlightening experience that reminded me that customer service is really quite simple, and that just getting the basics right is often enough to create the perfect customer experience.

The experience

Here is the story of my experience and the conclusions I drew from it.

Our faithful old washing machine took ill and unfortunately died suddenly. I took it upon myself to find the replacement. I guess you could say that I was in “crisis purchase mode”, anxious to get it sorted, so the last thing I wanted was more stress than was already being created by the absence of a working washing machine.

The internet has made shopping wonderfully easy and I soon found a number of suppliers. I narrowed this down to two that I recognized and who had the widest ranges, at comparable prices. I started to compare machines on one supplier’s website, pages were slow to load and it was difficult to find specifications of different machines to compare them. Frustrated, I gave up on that supplier, even though it appeared to be slightly cheaper, it was too much like hard work!  I concentrated on the other supplier, who I had used on rare occasions in the past without any memorable problems.

The second supplier’s website loaded quickly and I was easily able to compare machine specifications; great, a much better experience.  I narrowed the options down and selected the machine I thought best. There was one problem, I wanted a specific function that wasn’t shown in the specifications.  Having checked a couple of times I couldn’t decide, so with some reluctance I decided to telephone the customer service help-line, as suggested on the site.

I dialed the number and prepared to put my feet up, expecting to queue and wait for a response. The phone was answered within seconds; and by the friendly voice of a human being too!  I explained my problem, the machine I was considering, and the specific function I needed. The agent didn’t know the answer but said she’d phone me back within the hour. Just 20 minutes later (she’d obviously been trained in under-promise, over-deliver) the agent called me back with the answer; the machine did have the function I needed. I was impressed with the quick response, but more impressed because, even though she couldn’t answer my question, she immediately took responsibility for finding the answer on my behalf. She could so easily have passed the buck (as so often happens) by giving me a number to call for technical advice. All great so far.

I placed the order online and paid painlessly (apart from the pain of parting with my hard earned cash). I was able to pick a delivery date to suit my availability, I also had the option of selecting fast delivery but I chose the following Friday.  Finally, the system promised me a phone call, one hour before delivery; so that I could make sure that I was available (I didn’t have to tie the whole day up waiting just in case the delivery arrived without warning). Perfect!

Unexpectedly, the day before the delivery was due I received an email confirming that the delivery would be on Friday as promised, and that it would be in the afternoon. Nice to be kept up to date and, even better, I didn’t have to wait in during the morning of delivery, just the afternoon. Excellent!

Friday arrived and at 1.00pm I had a telephone call (as promised) to say the delivery would be around 2.00pm.  The machine was delivered a few minutes before 2.00pm. The two delivery men were polite, fast & efficient, but still had time for a bit of friendly banter. They had been well trained too and clearly knew their stuff because they also gave me a few fitting tips and advice before they left.  I started the task of installing the new machine around 1 hour later we had a fully working washing machine again. Brilliant!

My take-away points

The company got it right in the following ways:

Reputation and customer pre-conceptions

  • I had heard nothing bad about the company to deter me from using them in the first place
  • My previous experiences, whilst not particularly memorable, were not tarnished in any way
  • Nobody, friends, colleagues or relatives, had suggested that I don’t use them

Products and services

  • They had the range of products/services that I was looking for
  • They made their products and services easily accessible to me
  • They didn’t make me (the customer) work hard to find and compare products.

Systems and processes

  • I didn’t even notice their systems and processes; they made them invisible to me as the customer.
  • They had trained their staff to operate the systems and apply the processes efficiently and with subconscious ease
  • They didn’t ask unnecessary or unwarranted questions


  • Their communication was accurate and timely throughout the process
  • They always delivered or exceeded what they had promised
  • They stayed linked with me throughout the process
  • They pleasantly surprised (and reassured me) by over-communicating

The people touch points

  • Either they were very lucky or they had carefully selected the right staff
  • The staff had been trained well in both knowledge and behavior
  • They had embodied the right attitude; one of ownership and taking responsibility in all of the staff that I dealt with

My conclusions

In the example I’ve described above, I can honestly say that I was delighted by the company and my experience as a customer. They did not however, do anything more than I expected or they had promised. They got all the basics right!

Delight; the icing on the cake

I would be the first to promote the concept of offering the customer more than just a good experience, aiming to delight them. Delight is the icing on the cake of the customer experience. By all means aim to delight your customers, but make sure you’ve got the basics right first. Placing emphasis on trying to delight your customers is a waste of effort if the basics are not right in the first place.

John Freshney is Lead Consultant for UK based Wisecrow Customer Service Consultancy. He is a passionate advocate of excellent customer service and spends much of his time working with UK companies, helping them to maximise their customer experience potential. He firmly believes that the route to customer loyalty is through delivering excellent customer service and the creation of an unforgettable customer experience. John has a background in retail and training management and has worked for a number of national organizations throughout the UK. He is an accomplished consultant, trainer and business coach, and has lectured in leadership and management for a number of HE and FE colleges in the UK.
John Freshney
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  • Anonymous

    “By all means aim to delight your cus­tomers, but make sure you’ve got the basics right first.”

    What’s the point of icing if you don’t have the cake? We are always looking for ways to be bigger and better, but you have to make sure the basics are in order 100% of the time before you look for a new way to please your customers.

  • Bill Quiseng

    As a former luxury hotel GM, I would say “Mints on the pillow don’t mean a lot if the bed is not made.”
    I’d tell the team to “Be Magnificently Boring.”  When delivering error free service so repetitiously day in and day out, it can seem to the provider as boring. Yet in offering such an experience, it is felt by the customer as magnificent because it is simply better than expected. John, I agree with you that the best companies make customer service common practice by getting the basics right first.

  • John Freshney

    Thanks for your comments Bill and I love the example you give too. I remember being in a restaurant and hearing a waiter muttering as he left the table of a complaining customer, “and they had extra mints with their coffee. What do you have to do to make some people happy?” My wife was quicker than me to respond, “Make sure the coffee’s hot perhaps”. It’s true, delight factors can enhance the customer experience but it is getting the basics right that forms the foundation for it.

  • customer service video

    Dear John,

    This is a great post – what’s unique is that you point out the role that technology plays in customer service….

    We often just think of the human element, but ensuring that a websites, emails, etc. work smoothly, those are factors too…

  • John Freshney

    Thanks for your comments and glad you like the post.

    The key thing that the situation reinforced for me is that everything a business does impacts on the customer experience in some way. Getting all of those basic things right forms the foundation for the customer experience, and then you can raise this still further by creating the delight factors.

    Thanks again for taking the time to read my post.

  • Jason Noble

    Nice post.  Good to see customer services being done so well, from the beginning of your interaction with these guys, right through to completion.  And as you rightly say, it’s about delight.

  • John Freshney

    Thanks Jason. Wouldn’t it be great if more companies raised the customer experience by doing some of these simple things for their customers.

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