A Contrast in Customer Service Outcomes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In Customer Service is a Strategy, Not a Slogan, I put forward the question: Do you actually provide quality customer service or just brag about it? I then offered a comparison study, based on personal experience in the area of automotive repair. Here is another consideration from the retail sector.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Customer Service Failure

Several years ago, my wife and I went to rent a movie with a two-for-one coupon in hand and the residual amount from a gift certificate on the account. Our expectation was that we would each pick a movie and pay for them using the coupon and credit balance. However, we were wrong.

The first sign of trouble came in the checkout line when the clerk could not pull us up in their computer. “We got new computers,” he said curtly as he continued typing in vain. After much too long, he impatiently demanded, “When were you last here?” Our answer irritated him. “Well, that’s your problem,” he announced. “We gotta put ya in again.”

Next, as he scanned the DVDs, I handed him the coupon. “We don’t accept these,” he declared disdainfully. Dumbfounded, I asked why. “It’s for Acme Video Hits and we’re Acme Video Plus, now.”

I pointed to the in-store sign displaying the name Acme Video Hits.

“We got bought out and they voided all the coupons. It happened three months ago,” he explained, as though this was common knowledge about which only ignorant people were unaware; “We haven’t changed our signs yet.” He typed some more. “That will be seven dollars.”

“You charged us the price for current releases,” I informed him, pointing to a sign for 99-cent rentals of older movies.

“But you got DVDs,” he said with a slight roll of the eyes. “Ninety-nine cents is only for VHS.” (Yes, this was a long time ago.) He paused and, saving me from another query, added, “They changed that, too.”

An unfruitful discussion ensued; eventually, he gave up and summoned the manager when I inquired about our credit balance, which had been lost during either the acquisition or computer upgrade.

Then the manager appeared and summarized anew the critical information that we had pieced together from the unwitting clerk. He stated the company line and confirmed the price of seven dollars. However, he soon relented and eventually offered to partially accept our coupon, zero out the balance on our unverifiable account, and only charge us three dollars.

Sensing this was the best we could reasonably do, I accepted his offer and thanked him. He smiled broadly and shook my hand, no doubt assuring himself of a successfully resolved conflict and a customer retained.

My wife and I, however, left with a far different perspective. The uncaring clerk had simply dug too big of a hole for his boss to climb out of; the damage had been done and it was irreparable.

Customer Service Success

It wasn’t until another movie rental chain opened a local outlet that we again rented a movie. We walked in and hesitantly approached the counter. Michelle smiled broadly and genuinely welcomed us.

Upon learning we were first-time customers, she explained how everything worked, including the store layout, membership, prices, and specials. Her pleasant and easy-going demeanor was refreshing and put us at ease.

As we began browsing, clerks would momentarily appear, helpfully restating a tidbit of information, providing direction, or offering assistance, then moving away as quickly and stealthy as they appeared. This was not like my usual retail experience.

When it came time to pay, Michelle, reiterated the value of membership and reinforced the specials. She even did a successful up-sell—which seldom works with me—to pre-pay for several movies, thereby earning a discount; this was quite a feat considering my prior experience with having a credit balance.

However, when one has a compelling offer that is presented with infectious enthusiasm, it is easy to be successful.

What amazed me most about Michelle, however, was that through all of this, she was training two employees. She had the ability to give them subtle cues and brief instructions in the midst of serving us, without leaving us feeling slighted or inconvenienced.

Given these two examples, where would you like to work? Where would you like to shop?

Customer Service Success Tip: Successful customer service starts and ends with frontline staff. Make sure you have the right people in place. Train them thoroughly and empower them to do what’s needed to best serve customers.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer ServiceSticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Leadership and Management featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.