We’ve all suffered bad service at one time or another – whether it’s that retail assistant who refuses to make eye contact or the waitress who assures you “your food is being plated up” when in reality, it is 20 minutes away from seeing a piece of crockery.  Most day to day examples of bad service are actually pretty trivial, if unprofessional.  It’s sometimes a little harder to pinpoint good service.  Context is important.  At the bank I like informative, detailed advice where as in many other situations, invisible service can be a sign that things are running smoothly.  So what moves the needle on good service – from good to so good you would recommend to a friend or colleague?

In the business world, service-with-a-smile or ‘good service’ in the traditional sense is often about the packaging more than the content.  That guy on the other end of the phone – he didn’t really answer my questions but he’s very upbeat and I’m sure he’s doing his best.  This is the realm of glossy reports stuffed with attractive diagrams, immaculate hairlines and personalised stationery.  The overall result will often satisfy – they listen, they respond, they do what-they-are-paid-to-do but that isn’t what I would call great service.

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In my view, the key difference is honesty.  An anecdote about travelling home from work comes to mind.  During the course of a particularly long-winded journey from London, I was directed from train station to bus to station, then underground and then back into another station.  The cause – a train driver had managed to pull down several metres of overhead cabling.  I can hardly blame TFL and hundreds of staff for one incident.  The problem is, rather than using phrases like “I’m afraid I don’t know” or “we’re not sure at this present time”, I was met with a procession of staff who were making things up on the fly.  This didn’t reassure me, it simply caused frustration and further delays as in hindsight, most of the advice I was given turned out to be very unhelpful.  Nobody could be faulted for ‘not doing their job’ and yet in this scenario, that didn’t help me, the customer.

So, in this way, apparently good service can become bad service (the kind you write angry Tweets and Facebook posts about) very quickly.  Going through the motions is far less valuable than giving honest, candid advice.  The problem is that people are often afraid of admitting what they don’t know or disagreeing with their customers.  The short term gain from ‘keeping people happy’ is quickly eroded by the reality of imparting poor advice.  In the PR industry, remaining honest and knowing when to say, I think we can do better than that, are the most valuable things we can offer.

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