Service providers (the good ones at least) are constantly looking for ways to help serve their customers better, faster and smarter and to address their needs. The thinking behind this is simple. Improve your customer service to not only retain your current customer base but to also grow and attract more customers.

So, where can it all go wrong?

At the best of times I am a fussy eater. It drives my wife crazy sometimes. Sometimes I can decide what I will have for lunch before leaving for work. Other times I find it difficult to choose what to have on a sandwich from the condiments available at the deli counter (while in the queue with other customers waiting for me to make my mind up).

Recently I have been going to a particular deli close to my current assignment. The member of staff (John) serving the drinks and coffees has a great ability to remember everyone’s beverage preference especially where coffee is concerned. John prides himself on this and uses it will to interact with customers. I think this is an extraordinary ability in regards to the number of people that come and go from the shop each day. He will diligently have your beverage ready for collection at the till without you having to ask for it. So now, day after day I get presented with my beverage of choice (black tea) at the till without having asked for it.

Surely this represents an improved customer experience and therefore will lead to increased customer satisfaction. Generally yes it should but alas not in my case.  You see, in effect, what has happened is that I have lost the ability as a customer to choose what I want, when I want it. John (the server) has gotten to know me day after day and to know what I like. However, I can now no longer choose what beverage I can have, the choice has already been made by John.

Now in discussing this situation with a colleague I had to concede that perhaps 90% of the time, given the choice, I would have gone with what I was served but that is not the point. I am a loyal customer but I am no longer in charge of the decisions I feel I need to make (even something as simple as deciding what beverage to have with lunch). So what I do? Confront John or go elsewhere?

Generally it is much easier for customers to look elsewhere especially if similar products are available at similar prices rather than have a confrontation or an uncomfortable conversation with the service provider.

Understand your customers. Even when you think you are providing a superior service, continually ask “How are we doing today? Are we meeting your expectations? What would you like to tell us?

John, you do a great job but listen up. Have the tea ready but if you ask me if it is what I want then we will get on just fine. You might find that 90% of the time, or more, I will happily take it and want to come back.

About the Author: Mark O'Loughlin