Time rich & client poor? Watch out for the Customer Services trap

Customer Services have always been a highly integral part of building a successful business. These days good service levels do so much more than just produce happy customers; they can accelerate the acquisition of new ones too.

Think about it. When you’re looking to buy a new commodity or to access a new service for the first time, you’re very likely to place a considerable amount of the weight of your buying decision on what other people think.

This level of instant online referencing gives us a sense of comfort and helps us to mentally de-risk our purchase. We know it’s not fool-proof and we’re still happy to take overall responsibility for the investment, but any third party or objective intelligence is always very helpful. It helps to put things nicely into context for us.

Service with a Smile

Customer Services are one of the best ways (if not the best way) to ensure that customers have the best experience when they come into contact with your business. The effects of this cannot be underestimated.

Happy customers like to tell people about it (as it vindicates their decision to buy this product/service and therefore makes them look smart, which may also be true). Conversely, unhappy customers will very quickly go online to vent about unhappy experiences in order to try and warn others not to step on the same virtual landmine. Good and bad references can have very strong impacts on future revenues.

It’s no wonder then that companies spend a lot of time and money making their Customer Services teams as proactive and visible as possible as it makes a lot of sense for the outside world to see that your business takes this function really seriously, and that it keeps you closer to your customers.

In my experience it’s when things go wrong that Customer Services can add the most value. Although we may be unhappy that we’ve experienced a problem, if we feel that we’ve been supported quickly and fairly we’re even more likely to provide a strong reference for the company that supported us as we’ve seen, first hand, that their Customer Services initiatives actually work, and that they clearly care about their customers.

Setting the Scene

But, how do you set the tone for Customer Services that doesn’t constantly have you on the back foot? How do you make sure you don’t over-promise and under-deliver?

I have bitter experience of this, and it took me a long time to understand that I actually caused my own problem here.

In our case, very early on in our business, we were what we called ‘Time rich and Client poor’. This, clearly, meant that we had a small number of clients and more capacity than we needed to support them. So, we actively made a decision to provide this small number of customers with the best support that they could possibly have imagined.

Nothing was too much for us to do for them. Calls were answered at all hours of the day and night (and at weekends), and we went the extra mile at every available opportunity in order to prove both our worth and our value. We did this so that when the time came for these customers to act as references on our behalf, they wouldn’t think twice about commending us with gold stars and the highest of praise. This, was a big mistake.

All that happened was that these particular customers felt that the service levels that we were providing were ‘normal’. This was because we’d led them to believe that this was exactly the case.

What it also meant was that, if for whatever reason, we fell below our own service standards (which were way beyond what the customer had paid for in their service contract), we immediately had a very unhappy customer.


It took me quite a while to realise the obvious errors in this strategy. What’s more, once the ‘genie’ is out of the bottle, it’s more or less impossible to put it back in; in other words, once you start over-providing services at this level it’s extremely difficult to manage your customers’ expectations to expect less, or worse, to try and get them to pay for the difference in service levels.

To make matters even worse, after a couple of years we lost one of our original customers because they felt that our Customer Service ‘wasn’t as good as it used to be’. This was because we’d tried to pare our service to them back as we took more customers on board. It didn’t work. The irony of this was that we still provided way more service than they were paying for.

So, the moral of the story is this; much as you want to be differentiated in the marketplace for your ‘fanatical’ Customer Service, be warned. If you fail to manage the expectations of your customers they will immediately think that what you’re providing them is normal and will ping you if you begin to dip below that standard. And, worse, that standard is now fixed, irrespective of what they’re paying you for it.

Instead, take a more even approach. From DAY ONE work hard on what you feel is a fair, responsible and (above all) sustainable Customer Services approach and strive to deliver the same service to every customer, whether they’re your first or your latest.

This way you won’t fall into the ‘endless Customer Services’ trap that I did, and you won’t end up with unhappy customers for the wrong reasons!


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