Customer Service: The defining quality of service design

Posted on March 16, 2010.

I own two cars – a Chrysler and a Volkswagen. Periodically they both need to be serviced. I go to the dealerships because of warranty requirements. The Volkswagen dealer is also a Porsche and Audi dealer making it a far more upscale place to visit then the Chrysler (and Dodge) dealer. The facilities are radically different in quality, setup, appearance and amenities. Yet, I despise going to the VW dealer and really don’t mind going to Chrysler. Why? Customer service.

At Chrysler, I have the same representative helping me every time. He knows me, my wife, my kids, my warranty and most importantly my car. I walk in and am instantly greeted with “hi, Jeff” and “what can I do for you today?” The estimates are clear, expectations are properly set, the conversation is polite and friendly, issues are resolved quickly without hassle (and typically in my favor) and the occasional “oh, I noticed your wiper was bad so I swapped it out, no charge” -type of things also go on. The facility is grimey, old and there’s nowhere for my kids to play. Yet, I really don’t mind going there.

Contrast that with VW. The reps there don’t know me (though I’ve been there at least half a dozen times), force me to make appointments that are not convenient to my schedule, ALWAYS find something to jack up my estimate to several hundred bucks, talk shit (seriously) about other customers while we wait and do a horrible job of setting expectations about work and timing. I hate going there. I hate giving them my money.

The difference is customer service. Your service can be the most well-designed, upscale, modern and smooth experience but if the people you have staffing that service don’t uphold the ideals of that design the whole thing is flushed down the toilet. The interpersonal interactions we have with your service – whether in person or virtual – determine our perception of that experience. And, as my blog title notes, perception IS the experience.

Customer service can manifest in a variety of ways — it doesn’t have to be purely interpersonal interaction. For example, your web site can remember me, what I’ve done before, what I usually do, what I’ve bought before and offer pre-emptive support based on those activities. That’s customer service. And that’s the differentiator.