The key to good customer service - consistency

To continue my conversations on customer service on this blog, I'd like to distill the essence of what I consider good customer service down to one key element.  Consistency.

Humans thrive on the comfort of the 'known'.  As a species, we don't generally like surprises.  It moves us out of our comfort zone and clashes with our sense of peace and calm.

Any organisation that provides a service should have consistency as a high priority, and I don't mean the sterile, production line like consistency of, say, a franchise like McDonalds, that does everything according to a procedure manual.

I mean the consistency of providing that extra touch that delights the soul.

I will give you an example.  Given the fact that I work from home, I often crave the chance to get out to appreciate different scenery.  There is a cafe that opened up near me recently that I enjoy going to.  The coffee and food is great, and my 'usual' is a mocha coffee.  It is what I ALWAYS order when I go there, which is over 30 times now.

I recognise most of the staff, and some of them know me now.  A couple of them even are good enough to say 'Mocha coffee sir?' as soon as I walk in.  That makes me feel special, and appreciated.

There is however one staff member, who has been there since I first started going there, and who has taken my order over a dozen times, who ALWAYS asks me what I would like while giving me a blank stare.

That's all right, I will put that down to personality traits and perhaps some training, but there is another factor that has been irking me of late.

The first dozen or so times I ordered a Mocha coffee, it came to me with a single Tiny Teddy biscuit beside the cup.  A lovely touch I thought.  Then I began receiving the odd cup without the TinyTeddy.  That was a little disconcerting.  Consistency was failing.

What compounded it however, was the response of the staff.  I began to jokingly ask where was my missing biscuit when my coffee arrived without one.  On one occassion, the waiter was profusely apologetic and fetched me TWO biscuits as compensation.  On another couple of occassions, the waitresses just laughed it off and said something along the lines of "Oh Really?", without attempting to make amends or offer an apology.

That's the missing consistency.  I had an expectation that I would get a biscuit with my coffee, as well as the expectation that the staff would make it right when I pointed out to them that there was an inconsistency.

I know that most of you are thinking "First world problems", and it certainly is.  But this episode is building up a wedge of ill feeling between myself and this establishment.

On the other end of the scale is Sharon, my massage therapist.  I have been going to see her on a monthly basis for over ten years now.  The main reason is because she gives a great massage that makes me forget about the stresses and trials of my life, but the biggest factor is that in the whole decade that she has been treating me, her service delivery has been unfailingly consistent.

Sure she does introduce minor variations here and there, but the key elements of her treatment that I especially enjoy are always there.  Simple things like at the end of the massage when she bathes my feet with warm water to wash the oil off - I always look forward to that bit, and she never fails to finish my treatment with that thrill.  Ever.

I know that in my own business, I struggle to deliver consistent service to my clients, but I am willing to make the effort to try and discover:

(a) exactly WHAT elements of my service that clients think are special, and

(b) trying to ensure that I always deliver on those elements identified in (a) above.

Together, lets brings back great service to small business.