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Service Stinks ... Usually!

By Reg Pirie |

  • Service Excellence …
  • Customer satisfaction guaranteed …
  • Our customers are number one …
  • Customers are our first priority …

Recall hearing and seeing some of the above well-worn clichés? I don't know when customer service became such a big issue but the hype and ballyhoo was certainly intensified during the last 'recession' when everyone was chasing after our consumer dollars.

Every provider of products and/or services loves to tell us how we, the good old buying public, will be treated if we would only deal with them. In fairness, some really do make an effort but for the most part they fall short of the 100% satisfied goal. Others talk a lot about customer service and are lucky if they deliver 50% of the time. Last, but by no means least, are the organizations which proudly insert their customer service credo in their corporate mission statement but still have a rotten reputation for keeping customers and clients happy.

We can all recount examples of less than spectacular service. Just take a moment to reflect on your recent experiences with: an airline, a financial institution, your dry-cleaner, a mega department store, an independent retailer, your accountant, your lawyer, the service department at your car dealership and the list goes on.

I'll admit it, after spending years in the marketing game I wince every time I am faced with the decision to buy a product or service, particularly when the purchase relates to something which is well beyond my personal field of expertise. That sense of near terror was heightened to the fullest when the Pirie family recently decided to embark on a minor kitchen renovation. Brave souls that we were!

Being a good consumer, I ventured forth to obtain at least three quotes for the job at hand. Every expert tells you to do this. Trust me, the task is not that easy when you are confronted by disinterested suppliers. One firm I phoned never did call back. Strange, a few months earlier they were proudly displaying their wares at a local home improvement show. They were even handing out glossy brochures extolling their fast, friendly, personalized and competitive services.

The second potential supplier (a national firm which had installed the original cabinets) said they would get back to us. To this day, I am still waiting for the return call from their "customer service" representative.

'Oh Joy', the third company on the list actually reacted to my voice mail message. Things were looking up! They even phoned back within a couple of hours of my first message.

All of the foregoing is simply to set the stage for a GOOD story about customer service. Indeed, after dealing with firm number three, I took a few moments to assess what they had done to make this such a happy experience. No that's wrong, I wasn't just happy, I was genuinely impressed.

Whether they knew it or not, this locally operated company (The Cabinet Doctor Ltd. of Calgary) had captured what customer service is all about. I'd like to share how they did it. Please bear in mind, I am not an easy person to please. By the way, it doesn't matter that this real-life story is about a kitchen cabinet company. Their basic philosophy of customer service can apply to any business, big or small.

As you read the following, consider how your business would fare if I were writing an article about your company.

Respond in a timely fashion

I have already covered the fact that this company called back in a timely fashion. Next they asked when it would be most convenient for me to meet with them. None of this: "We can fit you in at 7:30 AM, two weeks from today."

To my great delight and surprise, they phoned the morning of the agreed appointment to confirm they would be at my home, promptly at 6:30 PM. Another 'Oh Joy' occurred when the representative called at 5:00 to ask if it would be OK to arrive at 6:15. I have to say, I was getting a warm and comfortable feeling about this outfit and I hadn't even heard what they had to offer or for that matter, what they would charge.

Listen to client requirements

Bang on 6:15 the door bell rang. In walked a real professional. From the first moment you could tell Rob was friendly and efficient - a rare combination! He actually spent some time talking. When I say talking, I don't mean quizzing us about the project, I mean conversing - person to person. He was getting to know his potential clients on a more personal basis. Not only that, he asked what we were attempting to achieve. He didn't launch into a "this is what you should really do" oratory, he listened to what we wanted to accomplish. Our requirements were simple, we wanted a face-lift not a total makeover.

Offer sound suggestions

Like most consumers, the Pirie's thought we knew exactly what we needed and wanted. But before the tape measure and the quote pad ever appeared, Rob took the time to ask a few pointed questions. Sure, I knew this was where the 'up-selling' would come into play, but by then I was at least willing to listen to his suggestions. This professional had already developed a level of trust in a scant 10 minutes. I was willing to hear his recommendations without fear of being conned into something. Some of his suggestions got a thumbs down but a few of his other ideas made a great deal of sense. Remember, at this point we hadn't even discussed price.

Don't oversell

Ever the skeptic, I waited patiently for the hard sell to begin after the quote was provided. Again, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, Rob wanted to close the deal that evening but he knew the Pirie's couldn't be pushed too fast. His fallback position was to invite us down to the office the next day to take a first hand look at their products. He had 'read' us as good prospects and he was willing to invest more of his time to finalize the sale. He knew when to back-off and he also recognized our buying limitations - we were only prepared to purchase 'updating'. We were not going to be convinced that an entire new kitchen was necessary.

We showed up the next day at their office - cheque book in hand I might add. Rob was there as agreed but so was one of his other professionals who was to assist in the selection of materials. Pat was a pro. She took the time to review options and even made a few phone calls to confirm the availability of certain items. Within an hour, the deal was signed and the down payment cheque was issued.

Then the dreaded comment. "Karl, our installer, will be in touch by the end of the week to take the necessary measurements and to schedule the actual work." A queasy feeling settled over me and I began to think all the foregoing great customer service had been a sham to get our deposit cheque. Would Karl ever call? Would he be some jerk, equipped with a 12 inch wooden ruler, a dull pencil and a chain saw to modify the cabinets? Assurances were given that he would be in contact within seven days to finalize every detail, including disconnecting the plumbing.

Always be on time

Half way through the week I was convinced this was a misadventure. Foiled again! Karl called within the agreed time frame and again, he asked when he could drop by. He showed up right on time - not twenty minutes late but exactly on time. My faith in human nature was renewed.

But by installation day my inherent skeptical views of customer service had returned. Karl had said he would show up between 8:30 and 9:00. It was already 8:55 and I was pacing. The phone rang and he said he was running about 15 minutes late but he and the plumber would arrive "momentarily". Sure, I had heard this story before - a ploy to temporarily placate the unwary consumer. No so! Karl's definition of momentarily was just that. Day one of the project went exactly according to the pre-arranged schedule.

Employ reliable and skilled professionals

By nature I am an inquisitive consumer. I want to know who, why, when, what and how. Not only did Karl and Laurence (the plumber) patiently respond to my many questions, they also took pride in showing me their craftsmanship. You could tell they were both skilled professionals. Another 'Oh Joy' - they went to great lengths to keep the work site clean. They didn't even ask for a broom, they brought one along. My internal customer satisfaction indicator was soaring by this time - these people were competent, carrying and proud of their work!


Yes, the job got done on time and it was done properly. Before Karl left he took the time to review every step of the process and he meticulously checked off each item on the original work order. As he departed, he urged us to call if any "after the fact" adjustments were needed. I assumed my reputation as a klutz when it came to home repairs had been revealed during one of our many conversations. He also offered the services of his employer if we, or any of our friends, were looking for a quote on quality work. True to form, a few days later a follow-up call came through from Rob to double-check if everything had been done as agreed.

NB: Let's wait and see if I get a subsequent follow-up call or a personalized letter in six months or so. That would be the mark of a company which truly understands the meaning of customer service and marketing.


This was a "no hassle" kitchen renovation. Now there is one for the record books! This is an experience I am going to share with all my acquaintances and relatives when they launch into their latest horror stories about poor customer service. It is rather refreshing and self-satisfying to have a positive tale to impart.

My final words of advice regarding what you should consider when establishing or altering the standard of customer service for your business:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Remember, you don't define "good service", customers do.
  • Customer service is about actions, not words.
  • Happy customers today mean more profits tomorrow.

The foregoing "simple" concepts will apply to any type or size of business… if you are really interested in acquiring clients, keeping them and having them do some of your marketing for you.

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