Responsive Menu
Add more content here...

It was Saturday 4th August 2012 – Super Saturday to all knowing British Olympic fans – and as well as some incredible sporting performances, I had just been treated to world class customer service from the army of volunteers that had given their time for free to help deliver the Olympics, deservedly known as ‘Games Makers’. Nothing was too much trouble; every one of them served with passion and dedication; and most importantly of all, they knew what they were doing, where everything was, and how to help me get there.

Wonderful! And then I went to ASDA!

I had to pick up some Soy Milk for the kids and not being sure where it was, I asked a staff member. ‘Dunno. Ask that guy!’ she grunted without making eye contact, gesturing at some young work experience kid. Sure enough he didn’t have a clue but suggested I try Aisle 9. No milk. The employee on that aisle very politely apologised that he couldn’t help because he was stacking and he only knew about his own section. Eventually, I found the right aisle by myself but what a surprise, no soy milk left, so I went home empty handed – the golden glow of the Olympic experience having well & truly worn off.

(If you’re in a rush, feel free to download this week’s free 21 point checklist on how to give great customer service)

Customer service in the UK is terrible!

Yes, that’s a gross generalisation, and of course, there are many exceptions. Honourable mentions in my personal experience go to:

  • Baggage & Security Screening staff at Stansted Airport
  • Barclays Premier phone service;
  • Oxford Street John Lewis electronics department;
  • the Divan grilled meat restaurant in North Finchley
  • and my most recent favourite, the company (strictly speaking they aren’t actually UK based, but I am, so who cares).

But I imagine, like me, that you have far more examples and stories of appalling service that just left you fuming. And since I’m not afraid to name & shame, dishonourable mentions (in my personal experience) go to:

  • PC World/Currys in Brent Cross where I can rarely speak to a staff member that actually knows the products;
  • 24/7 Home Rescue – rank rudeness from nearly every person I speak to, and still waiting for a boiler service I paid for a month ago;
  • the distinctly unsympathetic staff at the scanning section of Heathrow Terminal 4;
  • Sharps Bedroom in Bromley – fpr failing to deliver a bedroom to my parents, then charging a penalty for their non-delivery, then removing that penalty, then reinstating it after agreeing it was wrong, then only finally sorting everything out when the complaint was made on twitter (nothing like the oxygen of publicity to fire up a company’s attention to a customer)

But why is customer service in the UK so poor?

My theory is that a perverse reverse class psychology has taken hold and created a warped and destructive superiority complex.

Forgetting that all businesses are by logical necessity subservient to their customers, British companies seem to feel that because they are experts, they are the ones doing their customers a favour. Since the competition is often little better and changing is such a hassle, they confuse that customer inertia, with customer loyalty. They listen only to positive reviews, and dismiss those that complain as fusspots. In their own eyes, they give great service, and no one can tell them any differently.

How else can you explain the time it takes to catch a waiter’s eye for another drink compared to the speed it takes for them to get you the bill with 12.5% discretionary service already added no matter how bad the service?

Why else would a business have dedicated phone staff to help you make complicated purchases, but require you to post any complaint in writing to head office and wait 28 days for an acknowledgment?

Or the old favourite ‘we are experiencing high call volumes (whatever time you call) please hold on, your call is important to us’, but apparently not important enough to actually pay for more than two Delhi-based call centre staff.

Martin Luther King once said

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

(Turbo sweeps up in Breakdance movie)

That ethos exists in the US, where the staff seem to take pride in giving great service (and not just because of the tips). I have found it also in Germany (no tip culture), where employees often have a deep knowledge of products, which they use to help customers make better choices. I even experienced it recently with the airport staff at Barcelona (Heathrow take note!)

Sadly, this spirit is seldom found in UK companies.

OK, Kola. Enough ranting and moaning. What do you suggest we do about it?

Glad you asked!

In my view, there are three important elements to delivering the kind of customer experience that will make customers scream your name in ecstasy or at least tweet about you! Each of these three elements can be broken down in hundreds of ways to help supercharge your service

(and you can download my Free 21 Point Free Checklist with just 21 of those ways).

1) Eliminate Effort 

Your customers came to you for a specific product or service. Give that to them!

Before you look to ‘go the extra mile’ (which is what businesses typically focus on when thinking about customer service), remember that what customers want above anything else is to get what they came to you for, with as little effort and pain as possible.

So attend to this fundamental task as your very first duty.

Remove every obstacle. Minimise every hurdle. Simply every step involved in buying from you to make it as easy, effortless, seamless, and straightforward as it is possible for you to make it, for them to get what they are after.

Do a step by step walk-through of every aspect of your customer’s journey from when they first come into contact with your business to the month after they have actually bought from you. What do you see?

  • Was your website intuitive to use?
  • When they called your number, did you pick up within a few rings?
  • Do you have what they wanted immediately available exactly as they wanted it?
  • Was it easy for them to pay you?
  • Are there any steps you have added to the whole process that look nice but are not actually needed necessary?
  • Did you educate them on how to get the most out of your product/service?
  • Is it easy for them to buy again from you or just as much effort as the first time?

Why do I buy from Amazon? Because it’s so damn easy to find what I want and then buy it in one click. If I make a mistake, it’s easy to cancel. If I want to speak to them, instead of forcing me to hold for hours, they’ll call me back, usually within seconds of my request; if I need to return a product, they’ll refund me immediately, but then give me a month to return it.

There’s nothing fancy with Amazon. No special favours. No exceptional delight, just giving me what I want quickly and conveniently.

Now examine your own business. You may think it’s all gravy, but I’ll bet your customers and clients could give you 10 different ways you could make things easier for them.

An ‘effort elimination’ audit of your business is the single most effective step you can take to raise your customer service game because the effort it takes to get what they want is by far the most important factor to customers.

When customers complain about bad service, it is almost always because of the pain or difficulty they experienced in getting what they wanted.

2) Be Yourself

(Fierce Grace Yoga Studio)

It never ceases to amaze me how colourful and charismatic the individuals behind businesses turn out to be, compared with how blandly and impersonally they often allow their businesses to be represented.

If you are a customer, there is nothing worse than being forced to deal with a computer instead of a real person. Think about those awful artificial phone answering services:Please say the service you are looking for“. “OK, I’d like to check my bank balance” Did you say “apply for a loan?” “No, check my bank balance!!” “I’m sorry I didn’t understand. Do you mean you’d like to increase your overdraft?” “Noooooooooo! Check my bank balance!” 

But this lack of personality shows itself all over the place in businesses.

Voicemail message all use the same template: ‘Unfortunately, there’s no one here to take your call, please leave your name and a short message after the tone and we’ll get back to you‘; website about pages talk in the same boring terms about ‘our constant dedication to excellence and professionalism, and blah blah blah’; staff are forced to remove jewellery, cover tattoos, keep a certain length and style of hair til they are devoid of all personality.

In short, instead of infusing their businesses with humanity and individuality, they strip out everything unique and interesting in the false belief that this will somehow make their business more attractive to their customers.

Wrong! If you look and act like everyone else, customers have no reason to choose you above anyone else.

Customers crave personality. They cherish individuality, even (sometimes especially) when there are flaws within it. It is this personality that builds relationships and connects with customers to encourage brand loyalty.

It’s the reason Fox News, a channel more right wing than the love-child of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, has far greater ratings than the decidedly centre-based slightly bland CBS news. It’s why my wife loves the quirky Fierce Grace yoga studios with their cool brand posters; it’s why Innocent Smoothies supercharged their sales through innovative chattiness on their packaging.

Brand loyalty brings repeat business. Repeat business brings profit.

Infuse your business and the way you deal with customers with your personality. Identify all the different points of customer interaction into which you can insert something of your individuality. Let them feel the people behind the professionalism. Don’t be afraid to show your flaws, quirkiness, foibles, and preferences.

Your customers may not themselves be interested in the Valyrian dialects of the Game of Thrones, but they’ll love the fact that you are.

So Rule #2: Be Real! Be Yourself!

(dont forget the customer service checklist)

3) Deliver Delight

If you want to create raving fans, you’ve got to treat them to something delightful.

(Apple staff high-five Apple fans)

This, much misunderstood, approach is about more than just smiling inanely and saying nice things to your customers. It requires giving them something more, something special that fulfils three very specific elements:

  • it surprises them with something they had no right to demand or even expect
  • it feels like an unexpected act of human kindness & decency
  • it enhances the customer’s use or enjoyment of your product or service

This special delight fulfils the function of exciting your customers to not only stay loyal to you, but to actively promote your brand to others.

So, for instance, when our family flight back from Corfu was cancelled and the Value Plus Corfu Car Rental company let me keep their hire car for an extra day free of charge, I couldn’t stop telling everyone travelling to Corfu about them and I now never rent from anyone else.

Famously, when a man returned an iPad with a Post-It note that read, “Wife said no.”, Apple apparently refunded the customer and returned the iPad with an attached Post-It that said, “Apple said yes.” (I personally think Apple’s customer service is not quite as great as it once was, but it is still a clear leader).

When Sainsburys changed the name of a product from Tiger bread to Giraffe bread in response to the suggestion of a three year old, the story went viral.

Once you have eliminated all effort, and shown your personality, this is where going the extra mile to surprise your customer will supercharge your brand. They will love it, love you, and share the love everywhere they can.


So, there you go. The three steps to superb customer service.

Apply them to your business, then give me a shout cos I’d love to be one of your customers!

Kolarele Sonaike

Founder, Elevator Pitch School

p.s. Don’t forget to get your free download of this week’s 21 Point Checklist to help analyse your own customer service performance.

Pin It on Pinterest

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.