Forget the wow. Customer service just shouldn’t suck.

A company that gets it

Customer service is one of my hot buttons. And getting hotter. I wrote about a restaurant experience recently and provided feedback via email. My expectation was a simple acknowledgment, but nothing. Makes me think they give customer feedback mere lip service. Maybe they’re not as interested as I thought, and makes me less inclined to return. Plenty of other options around.

Over Thanksgiving, we stayed at the downtown Holiday Inn in Everett, Washington and were thrilled that they allowed us to bring our ailing Schnauzer at the last minute (turns out they are pet-friendly for a fee). Their desk staff was gracious, made us feel welcome and the rooms nicely updated. We also enjoyed their complimentary breakfast Thanksgiving morning before heading over to my in-laws. Again the staff was very friendly. All’s good. Holiday Inn

Then Friday happened. There was a crowd of people at breakfast – many who came down from Canada for black Friday and a hockey team dropping in for a bite for which the back dining section was reserved. No one greeted us at the front “Wait to be seated” sign. The guest behind jumped ahead and asked a nearby staff if they could take it to the room. When we asked, she snapped that there were lots of people waiting. No tables. Grab your food and take it out. And what’s your room number? No offer to put us on the list. Service with a scowl?

So we grabbed our food and were heading out when we saw my sister-inlaw’s family at a table. They invited us to join them so we did. Shortly thereafter many tables cleared out and were not filled again. So much for all the people waiting. Not once did someone come by with coffee let alone a smile like the day before. And thus, no tip either.

We don’t expect much. Just a smile and a hello is fine. Like we got the day prior. It’s just not THAT HARD! A company doesn’t have to wow. They just have to act like they care you’re there regardless if it’s busy or slow. The bar’s not that high: just don’t suck. Fortunately, they did okay on the other areas, but it’s these interactions that sour the experience.

Here are my 6 simple rules for acceptable customer service ANY hospitality/service business can and should follow:

  • Acknowledge and smile at a customer when they arrive.
  • If people need to wait, set the expectations. Don’t leave ‘em hanging. Or act like they’re invisible. We pick up on that.
  • Check in at least once. Ask us how everything’s going. It’s not likely we’ll need much, but we appreciate that you recognize we don’t have the keys to the kitchen or supply cabinet.
  • Make sure everyone who has contact with customers has the ability to be polite – especially if the customer is polite also. (Having worked retail way back when, I know how difficult customer service can be). Be politely firm when you need to, but suck it up.
  • Make sure these same people have a clue where to turn to problem solve. Or at least attempt to problem solve.
  • Say thank you at the end of the transaction.

See? Not that tough. But if you want to up your game and actually deliver a little wow:

  • Find out what the customer is doing – vacation, business? Special occasion, casual dinner?
  • Discover common grounds, make them feel like you really appreciate they’re there. Only requires a little chit chat – not a lot of effort. You’re not looking for their life story
  • Anticipate their needs before they ask. It’s so rare that you’ll score major points here.
  • When issues arise, resolve them with the least inconvenience to the customer – don’t make them jump through hoops to find answers. And if you can’t, just make sure they’re not left hanging. Provide closure.
  • Let them know you really appreciate them joining you and hope they’ll return.
  • And for major points, depending on the scope of the experience, send a handwritten note of thanks. Particularly if they’re repeat customers, brought a large group, etc.

See any common threads in the above? Each of these requires good people skills. Nothing fancy. But you as a leader need to provide the training and culture to create the environment where these rules become habit. You need to show you care about your team members delivering the service. It’s really not that hard. But how many times are you disappointed?

I’ll end by sharing my experience last weekend with Comcast. Before our Thanksgiving trip north our internet quit. Knowing it might not be a quick fix, I tackled it when we returned. After my own attempts failed I called Comcast’s 800 number. At first I was going through their automated system, troubleshooting based on each prompt. After less than 5 minutes, Matt – a live person came online. Whoa there. And he proceeded to take me through the process of resetting the modem, connecting the cable, yada yada. Patiently.

When we determined it was a failed router, he mentioned Fry’s had a deal on one for $20. He was fast, personable – and demonstrated a genuine desire to help. All in less than 10 minutes. I hung up with a smile. That simple interaction – because it was unexpected – created a little wow. It may seem silly to some, but it shows the little things matter. And a big company, if they choose, can deliver customer service that doesn’t suck.

So companies big and small, this is an open plea to not suck at customer service. You can do it. Really.


  1. Jason Mikula says:

    I’m sure you’ve read this by now, but I’ll post it anyway, in case your readers haven’t.

    NYTimes story about the eye glasses e-tailer who PURPOSELY gave people terrible customer service to spur negative reviews online which, evidently, gave him a boost on Google –

    Completely counter-intuitive but apparently a successful strategy.

    I also have dealt with Comcast a time or two recently (actually, my story is on my blog here- .

    I’ve also been surprised at Comcast’s efforts to provide excellent customer service lately — they’re working hard to overcome a bad reputation.


  2. Patrick says:

    Thanks Jason – This is an interesting story and I appreciate the hat tip – hadn’t seen it before you shared it. That’s definitely counter intuitive, but I’d certainly caution companies from copying that. Like the creativity he showed; somehow sounds like a Seinfeld episode!

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