The Customer Service Magic Ingredient

Categories: Winnthinks

If you were to ask most customers what they’re looking for in a transaction, they will probably tell you they want the right product or service, at the right price, delivered at the right time and to the right quality. After thinking a little more, they will often also add that they want the person dealing with them to be efficient and knowledgeable, respectful and pleasant. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?

So, bear that in mind as I tell you about my experience when I bought a new sat nav just a few weeks ago. And by the time you’ve finished reading, I reckon most of you will have worked out that there’s something missing from that list. It’s the Customer Service Magic Ingredient.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Three weeks ago I decided I needed to replace my sat nav. My old one was being held together with elastic bands, and also didn’t seem to know its way around Swindon very well. In fact, it didn’t know that half of Swindon was even there. So, I popped along to a particular computing/electrical superstore near me (which I shan’t mention by name) and walked in.

Not immediately seeing what I wanted, I approached a Customer Service Assistant who appeared to be available, and asked if he could point me to where the sat navs were. Admittedly, I couldn’t resist also making a weak joke about the irony of needing directions… perhaps that was where I went wrong.

The Assistant looked over my head and pointed to an aisle a little further over. “Just over there,” he said, without cracking a smile or making eye contact. “But don’t ask me for any advice – I don’t know anything about sat navs.” He then walked off.

Oh, OK then.

I wandered over to where he had indicated. I looked at the selection in front of me. There was, I don’t doubt, the right product at the right price, in the right place and of the right quality. But you know what I did? I walked out of the shop without a backward glance, and drove 15 minutes to another shop (different company) in another town.

Now, regular readers of these Winnthinks will know very well my assertion that there are three very particular needs that every customer must have met, if they are to feel they’ve had a good customer experience. Every customer needs to feel

  • Understood
  • Valued
  • Reassured.

How do you think that Assistant scored on those three counts?

Contrast this with the service I received at the next shop I visited, where a young Assistant, Luke, saw me browsing, put down the parcel he was wrapping and came over to assist me. He asked me what my requirements were in terms of price, features, etc. (that is, he took the time to understand what I was after). He interacted with me warmly, enjoying a good laugh together about the parcel he’d been wrapping which was a particularly oddly shaped one (so I felt not like a nuisance but valued – a welcome respite from the woes of brown paper and tape that won’t stick). And he explained how I could come back and change the product if it wasn’t right, though actually I’d chosen a good one and if I’d also like to buy a little padded bag for it, special today at half price, it would be protected in my handbag when I remove it from the car. Yes, I was reassured whilst being cross-sold to.

I was so pleased to have received some good customer service at last, that I Tweeted his company to give him a mention and a thank you. Shame really – good customer service shouldn’t be a cause for comment, rather it should be the default experience. But it still isn’t, which is why I will always give recognition for it when I can.

So what was Luke’s extra Magic Ingredient? It’s the emotional intelligence to read the customer’s signals. A jovial, chatty interaction with me was the right way to go, because I was giving off strong signals showing that to be the kind of exchange I wanted. On another day, I may have just needed a quick, efficient sale because I was in a hurry. Or I might have come in with a complaint and needing a different kind of response and extra careful handling. Great customer service professionals have the ability to pay attention, pick up those signals and tailor their service delivery appropriately.

And that applies whether you’re selling sat navs, financial services, complex consultancy services, holidays, complaint resolutions, fags and mags, funerals or jumbo jets. Read your customer correctly and you will be able to take them to their destination by the shortest possible route.

And interestingly, even if you couldn’t provide them with the right product or service at the right price, delivered at the right time and to the right quality – you may even so have just won yourself a loyal future customer.


  1. Hi Rebecca,

    I couldn’t agree more with you. Customer service is crucial and customers should receive great service regardless whether they are spending £2 or £1000 for a product.

    Great customer service can lead to a customer wanting to buy more products they came for initially. This will encourage the customer to help that business free advising of C2C marketing.

    Thanks for this great article.

    Faith Kalejaiye

  2. That was a great tale Rebecca. What an example of how not to deal with a customer and on the other hand how to do things right! Well done you for pointing out the error of this person’s ways. I hope you sent off an email complaining about the poor service you received initially. If you haven’t you should have. I want to hear about it when we next meet up.

  3. Thanks, Faith, I appreciate you taking the time to write a response. You’re definitely someone who knows a thing or two about meeting customer needs, I know!

  4. Haha! Thanks, Susan. You know, if he hadn’t disappeared so fast I’d have given him some feedback there and then, but was so taken aback I wasn’t quick enough!

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