What you think, what they say and how to close the gap

[Image courtesy of Alan Clark at Flickr Creative Commons]

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently about customer service for a big project. And what I’ve found out has surprised me, and sometimes amazed me. But before I dive into the detail, let me ask you a simple question: 

Do you provide good customer service? 

Of course you do. The default response to that question is yes. If it were no, you’d either be very honest (you owned up) or very naive (you thought it didn’t make a difference). It’s like asking somebody if they’re a good wife, or husband, or boyfriend, or girlfriend. A knee-jerk yes. 

And yet and yet. One of the surveys I saw said that 88% of companies think they provide good customer service. And customers? Go on – think of a number. Got it? OK, we’ll come back to that later.

That figure wasn’t the only one that caught my eye.

Research company Gartner say that only 5-10% of companies truly have customer care at their core. The rest – and that’s a whopping 90-95% – simply focus on customer care because they have no choice, and because all other differentiators have disappeared. So they’re doing it simply because they have to, not because they want to.

Let me throw some more figures at you, and just think how they relate to your business: 

  • Reducing your customer defection rate by just 5% can boost your sales by between 25% and 125%
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they’re being treated. 
  • A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as cutting your costs by 10%. (Read that again, and write it down on a Post-it. Now stick it to your monitor.)
  • 86% of people will pay more (read, write, stick) for customer service, but only 1% of them feel their expectations are met.
  • In 2013, 62% of global customers switched service providers because of poor service.

OK, OK – I’ll stop. You get the picture.

It’s the service, stupid

The takeaway here is: customer service is important, nobody’s getting really right, and everybody better start getting it right soon. 

In fact, that’s the other really big thing I got from my research. By 2020, customer service will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. So that’s five years at best – and that’s a very short time indeed when you’re running fast just to stand still.

So what’s the answer? Run faster? Do more with less, in that time-worn cliché? Under-promise and over-deliver (ditto)? 


The answer is really simple. Just promise and deliver. You don’t need to aim for excellence, or go the extra mile every time. In any case, when your resources and your time are maxed out, overshooting for all customers is both exhausting and expensive.

So just do a good job. Do what you said you’d do. Because one other finding I saw really caught my attention: research shows that ‘customer delight’ is wasted effort. Exceeding expectations doesn’t have an appreciable effect on customer satisfaction.

As the man said, good enough is good enough. Now stop reading and start doing.

(A paltry 8% of customers say they get good service, by the way. Chilling, isn’t it?)