Trucks at Work

Customer service details

"To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization." --Harriet Beecher Stowe

Sure, sure, we‘ve all heard it before - how "the little things" can add up to be a really big thing in terms of customer service. But I‘ve found it‘s true that just a kind word here, some extra effort over there, or even the addition of some little extras makes a big difference at the end of the day.

For example, there‘s a barbershop I favor in Burke, VA, operated by Vietnamese immigrants, where I‘ve gotten haircuts for the last 12 years. I don‘t live in Burke anymore, yet I still head out that way, because they greet me warmly every time I come in, know how I like my hair cut, and get it done in record time (very inexpensively I might add). Still, it‘s that little thing - the personal greeting - that keeps me coming back.

Professor Jerry Osteryoung with the college of business at Florida State University had some thoughts on this subject and what it can mean for small business owners trying to win (and keep) clients for the long term. So, Professor Osteryoung, as usual, the floor is yours:

"I was in Jacksonville to give a speech, and I was up very early (the older I get, the earlier I seem to wake up). I knew that I needed to eat some breakfast, so I stopped at Panera Bread and ordered a toasted bagel (multi-grain) with cream cheese (low-fat) and some coffee to have in the restaurant (they also had a free wireless internet connection). When I sat down in a booth with my bagel and coffee, much to my surprise, on my tray was an old-fashioned metal knife - not the usual plastic cutlery.

For me, spreading the cream cheese with the metal knife was easier and just felt good. I am sure it is not as economical to use metal knives, as they have to be washed, but it sent the beautiful message that the customer is very important at this restaurant. In addition, I also felt as if Panera Bread was helping the environment by not serving a plastic knife.

Given that every new customer represents a significant investment of dollars, you must make sure that each and every detail pertaining to your customer service delivery is thought through and carefully planned out. As I like to say, ‘The devil is in the details, especially with customer service.‘

Another example of where details make a difference is with paper towels in bathrooms. I hate, hate electrical hand dryers, as it seems to take forever to get my hands dry. Of course, some of this may have something to do with my strong impatient streak; however, having paper towels in restrooms just creates the right customer service experience.

I work out at Premier Fitness and Health Center. When you first walk in, there is a check-in counter where they scan members‘ ID cards. What is neat here is that when you are leaving, the staff tries to say ‘Good bye‘ to you - and if they know your name, they will mention that as well. Having one of the staff say ‘Goodbye, Jerry‘ on my way out makes a wonderful final impression. Small things do matter!

Another detail that many overlook is their voicemail message. Suppose you call someone and his or her voicemail message says ‘I will call you back as soon as possible.‘ Does that mean in two weeks, two days, or to hours? This vague message does not tell me that the customer is important; rather, it says ‘I will get to you whenever it is convenient for me.‘ Clearly, this is just not a good message to transmit.

I prefer a message that says, ‘I am in the office today, February 18. I am sorry that I could not receive your message directly, but your call is important to me. If you leave me a voicemail message, I will get back with you before the end of the day. Thanks for calling me.‘ Messages like this are so much more effective than those that say ‘I will get to you as soon as possible.‘ Looking at all of the details of your customer service delivery is important, for it‘s the small things that really matter."

You can reach Professor Jerry Osteryoung by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 850-644-3372. All of Dr. Osteryoung‘s articles, by the way, can be found in a searchable form at