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Communicating intent in customer service

September 10, 2017

gas station

Photo: Mike Mozart (CC)

I think about customer service. Like, all the time.

I consider it from the receiving end, talking with company reps, chatting online, dealing with clerks in person. Each encounter tells me this brand cares about me (and often, does not care about me).

And I consider the customer service I give. Is it meaningful? Does it reflect my brand? Are my intentions clear?

I’ll use an example most of us deal with on a weekly basis: gas stations. Most of the customer service we experience at these stations is average: We show up, we pump gas, we pay, we leave. We might grab the receipt, we might run in for a beverage, we might squeegee the windows.

Our customer service isn’t shaped by full-serve attendants (except New Jersey and Oregon) or really much human interaction at all. But we have clues all around us.

When I must run inside to get a receipt from the clerk, he’s friendly and accommodating. But it’s still an inconvenience, especially when the same station consistently has a broken receipt printer at the pump. Where is the love for the customer?

When the squeegee bucket is bone dry or missing the actual squeegee, what does this tell the regulars? Or a screen blaring infotainment and ads while we’re pumping gas?

People aren’t dumb. We know when we’re considered suckers who need gas vs. human beings who want to spend money with the best businesses. We pick up on subtle indicators to understand our role as customer and exactly how brands hold us in esteem or contempt.

As brands, we may not always understand how our customer service relies on every touch, every encounter — from the moment a customer pulls up our website or walks past our display window. But we must try.

Customer service, like reputation, takes a long time to establish well and only one little mistake to ruin. We communicate it through our signage, our facilities, our greeting and our follow-through.

Let’s spend a little more time thinking about how we communicate that service intent and how we can improve in all the little things.

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