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What is Modern Customer Service?

Customer Experience

I’ve had a nagging sense of unease buzzing round my thinking passages all day perpetuated by an overnight experience with the hotel we’re visiting next week.

Yesterday I sent an email confirming our arrival on Sunday. Around that time I’d been surfing TripAdvisor for inspiration on things to do in the area.

With the Advisor still loitering in a Chrome tab, I decided to check out the ratings for this hotel. I say hotel because I’m pompous; it’s a bed and breakfast.

Still doing well, it seems. But what’s this? An offer. For bookings in July and August.

Because I’m a perennial cheapskate I decide to see what we could have won.

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To be clear – I know offers don’t apply if you booked before they appeared. Yet because social media assuages our lust for more, there’s that notion that anything you ask for must be sated.

It turns out a bottle of Prosecco was on offer for new bookings.

So trying my hand, I email the b & b again, writing in jocular fashion about how lovely it would be if this guy who booked ages ago because he thinks you’re awesome would find a chilled bottle of the fizzy stuff in his room. I mean, I know you probably won’t be able to, because I don’t fit the ts & cs, but I just had to ask anyway.

That was last night.

The next day

Morning dawns and with it, a reply from the guest house.

They’re delighted, I am told, that I have confirmed our arrival time.

But then the email turns sour.

I am sorry but the prossecco offer was a last minute offer we added in July, to try to fill up some gaps we had at the end of July and beginning of August. The offer does state for new bookings only (last minute bookings made in July and August). We have never offered a special offer in summer before – it was purely to help with bookings as this year July and August were very quiet (except of course the festival weekends, like Northern Soul, Regatta and Folk week, which get booked a year in advance). I am sorry, but it would not be fair to give you the offer as you booked last April…

This is where modern life gets stuck in the throat.

And why I asked the question: what constitutes modern customer service?

Five years ago I would have seen the offer, considered it a lovely gesture to pack the rooms, feel content I had a few nights at this clearly coveted establishment, and then closed the tab.

Today I want to challenge the establishment. I remember how an in-flight @petershankman had a suited representative of his favourite steakhouse appear at the airport with a juicy Porterhouse after Tweeting his meaty desires from 33,000 feet high.

Last weekend @virgintrains messed up with no hot food or newspapers in the on-board buffet bar.

Their absence coincided with our journey down to London celebrating a vintage birthday. So I was straight on Twitter, bemoaning the lack. Inspired by the Shankman success story, I suggested via a Tweet they might have a bacon roll waiting for our birthday girl when we arrived at Euston. It was, as you might expect, a flat no – even if they did respond Twitter-style seconds after my enquiry.

And I think it’s social media once again that made me feel like I was deserving of that cheap bottle of plonk. We all feel like we have the right these days – that we all need to be treated that bit more special than ever before.

Which must make it a bit tricky for service providers. They have to work harder, preempting and predicting and being careful not to upset one apple to send the rest of the cart tumbling.

But at the same time those little gestures go a long way. Say they’d buckled and instead of tilting hard at their terms and conditions, wowed me.

Those purple cows be purple still

Godin always said they were remarkable, those companies who showed themselves to be agile enough to respond favourably to every customer request. And they still are. The pockets of genius are widely reported and yet we believe everyone should fit the same over-delivering mould.

I think I’m wrong, in expecting, in believing I deserve. But equally that isn’t going away. The up-and-coming generation live in a world where they get what they want; the only question is, will you be there to give it to them or are you handing that opportunity to your competition?

And next week? I’ll let you know how that guest house goes.

Enjoyed this lesson for content strategy success? Get in touch on Twitter @davethackeray and let me know your thoughts.

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