Is your Customer Service Good, Fast or Cheap?

A long time ago, longer than I care to admit, I was a Project Manager for a software project at a large multinational manufacturer. There was an information seminar on that I had a number of the team members attend. The objective of the session was to learn the concepts of Project Management. The presenter stood up and started the conversation by saying “Good, Fast or Cheap – pick any two”. They were wise words, and words that I used often to determine what level of effort or cost should go into delivering what ended up being a very successful project. How does this effect customer service?

Shift forward 27 years (OK I admit it, I’m old) and I am standing in a fairly upmarket US resort hotel waiting for a porter (not the beer – what our North American friends call a ‘bell hop’ ) to assist me in unloading my family’s luggage. The service at the front of the hotel was excellent. The staff assisted me in unloading, asked if I wanted the car parked; they couldn’t have been more helpful. The porter/ bell hop duly loaded the luggage and escorted us to the desk.

All of a sudden my resistance to my wife’s “encouragement” to stay at an expensive hotel for a holiday seemed pointless, I was sold. I was now looking forward to enjoying the same kind, courteous and helpful service for the rest of my stay. The words of my project management days came back to me – I had chosen the option to pay some more and I was going to receive my ‘good and fast’ service holiday.

Unfortunately however, my expectations were not met. Pretty soon I found that even though I was paying for ‘fast, good’ service, I didn’t always get it. My wife asked that same porter to put some of our luggage in storage and was told she would have to lug it herself the 100 meters to the back of the hotel where the storage room was. This was complete contrast to the quality, above and beyond service we received in our first encounter with the business.

In another instance, after queuing at the concierge desk for 5 minutes when it came to my turn it was interrupted by a telephone call that kept me waiting another 10 minutes. Again this experience was a contrast to the expectation that I was given by my first encounter with the staff, that my needs were a priority to them.

I could go on, but rather than sounding like I am complaining for complaining sake, I will say that the level of service from there on in varied, some instances I got the ‘good, fast’ service I expected, other times, sloppy would have been a more appropriate description.

So why rave on about this? Well, there are two things that strike me as important in customer service. Firstly it is extremely important to set the customer’s expectation for service correctly from the start. If you stay at an expensive resort hotel, you expect good quality and fast service. If you are shopping at a “Big Box” discount store, you probably will have to do most of the work yourself.

So, are you a full service provider? Or are you cheap and cheerful? In other words which of these two are you – Fast, Good or Cheap?

Secondly, it is just as important to consistently deliver on that expectation. It is no good being full service, high quality i.e. fast and good, and then ask for a premium if you cannot consistently deliver that full service. Just as importantly if you choose to be a good and cheap service you have to avoid raising expectations that your service will be as high a quality or premium.

The old adage of “you get what you pay for” could be replaced by “you give what you are paid for in customer service”.

So what sort of customer service do you want to provide?

  • Fast and Cheap,
  • Fast and Good or even,
  • Slow and Good

(I don’t recommend picking slow and cheap) – and make sure you stick to it.

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