The Future of Customer Service?

Caroline Harrison takes a break from the usual business-bashing to show how good service can leave a lasting impression on customers for all the right reasons.

It’s very easy to criticize the service we receive from shops, banks, utility companies and the like.  I could recount a million and one tales of incompetence, annoyance and frustration, where the actions of companies – or individuals within them – have left me feeling unimportant, undervalued, and frankly furious.  But today, for a change, I’m going to be more positive, and praise a good customer experience.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I decided the time had finally come for us to embrace the twenty-first century and buy a docking station for our iPods. 

As if to highlight our lack of technological prowess, we didn’t log on to the internet, spend 20 minutes clicking the mouse, and then lo and behold have a brand new docking station delivered to our door the very next day.  Nor did we even use the internet to thoroughly research our product options in advance.  Ever daring, we simply got in our car and drove to our local Apple Store at the mall. 

Yet when we arrived, it didn’t feel like we had driven 10 miles down the road – it felt more like we’d driven 10 years into the future.

The first thing I noticed was that Apple, in creating its clean, white shop façade, had done away with the need for a name.  The simple yet oh-so-recognizable Apple-shaped logo was all that was needed to entice customers – especially the younger generation – into this wonderfully spacious store.

The second thing I noticed upon entering was a brigade of blue t-shirted ‘youths’; at least 30 of them were milling about, rather like a school party that had got lost on its way to the Science Museum.  But no, these individuals were the staff, and at an impressive ratio of around one per customer.

With so many sales staff waiting to pounce, I half expected to be cornered before I had got through the door, but we found ourselves able to browse for a minute or two before a friendly but professional young man approached us and asked if he could help.

When we explained that we were looking for a docking station, he led us over to the correct department, before attempting to narrow down our choices.  Did we have a specific brand in mind?  Any particular colour or size?  How important was sound quality to us?  How much were we hoping to spend?

He then proceeded to point out various options, gave us a concise, balanced summary of the pros and cons of each model (notably without pushing the most expensive choices), and even demonstrated the same song on each so we could compare like-for-like sound quality.

When we had asked and he had answered any remaining questions, he discreetly took a step back to allow us to discuss among ourselves which docking station most suited our needs (or, to put it another way, gave me the chance to make clear to my husband that we really didn’t need the biggest, flashest, loudest and most expensive product available).

Decision made, he stepped forward again, whipping a hand-held electrical unit out of his pocket.  A couple of taps of the keypad later, he sped off, only to return after 30 seconds with our newest purchase packed up and ready to go.  He then asked if we would like to pay by card, to which we nodded.

Without moving from the spot, he tapped his keypad a couple more times, swiped our card, and handed us the unit so we could enter our pin number.  Our receipt was already printing out before we had had chance to return the unit to him, and so, within little more than a minute of making our purchase decision, we were heading out of the shop, bag in had, smiles on our faces.

Attentive, knowledgeable, and uber-efficient service isn’t as common as any of us would like.  It’s rare to leave a shop thinking “wow, that was great service”.  Yet I would happily return to the same store, would recommend it to others, and am even extolling its virtues today on the world wide web.

Is this how shopping will be 10 years from now?  Well I don’t know, but I certainly hope that many more organizations work towards putting such an emphasis on customer satisfaction.

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