I believe that the way a business interfaces with its customers is one of the most important determinants of success.

Sure – product, management, strategic direction, corporate citizenship – it’s all important.  But every business has customers and when it comes down to it, customer interaction can have a huge positive, or huge negative impact on overall business results.

A while back I went on a huge customer service kick and read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness and Gary Vaynerchuk’s two books.  I think both of those guys have excellent ideas when it comes to wowing your customers and making service a competitive differentiator.  However, I would argue that there is one principle that’s even more important than wowing your customers.

That principle is consistency.

I’ll even go so far as to say that consistency of service is even more important than quality of service.  Said another way: it’s more important to give your customers a consistent experience than to give them a good experience.  To support my point consider the following two businesses: Zappos and Pat’s King of Steaks.

Zappos has fantastic customer service and they are renown for wowing customers with free shipping and free upgrades whenever possible.  Imagine you are a Zappos customer who is calling in to report that your shoes arrived damaged and needed to be returned.  Now imagine (hypothetically) that your experience with a customer service representative was just ok.  Not great – just good.  Knowing that Zappos has a fantastic reputation for customer service, your expectations were set sky-high.  When you received only fair customer service you actually left disappointed and unfulfilled.  Receiving average customer service from Zappos is like receiving terrible customer service from anyone else.

Now let’s think about Pat’s King of Steaks.  For those of you unfamiliar, Pat’s is one of the more famous places to get a cheesesteak in Philadelphia.  One of the trademarks of Pat’s is that they have awful customer service.  When visiting Pat’s, customers are greeted by a huge line that snakes up and down along the side of the building.  The average wait time to get a cheesesteak is at least 30 minutes.  After waiting outside in line, Pat’s customers are then famously accosted by the order staff if they fail to deliver their order quickly.  Taking any longer than three seconds will invariably bring on a verbal assault.  The weird thing is, people love it!  Even though the customer service is awful – it’s consistently awful.  As my sister-in-law once said “Pat’s is great – you wait in line, you get yelled at, but then you get a cheesesteak.”

Consistency is not easy, but upon achieving it your customers will love you – sometimes even if you are consistently bad.

The Number One Most Important Customer Service Principle
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