Customer Service: Why You Shouldn’t Go The Extra Mile

You don’t need to be a regular churchgoer to often hear one of life’s most sensible maxims:

“Do unto others as you would be done by”

It is this maxim alone, more than any other that epitomizes the principle of customer service – simply provide the level of service that you yourself would be happy to receive if the roles were reversed. If you can bump it up a notch to the delight factor, even better, but preferably only go there if you can sustain it regularly, or you risk creating an expectation that cannot be sustained.

Friendly, helpful service yields results

Of course, there are always exceptions in customer service. When you’ve had to recover from a mistake or a mishap and your customer is upset or angry, then you want to “go the extra mile” and create an exceptional experience to repair the upset that went before. The expectation of “going the extra mile” is a great concept in principle, but practically does not work as a mantra. Here’s why:

An extra mile at a reasonable running pace takes about 9 minutes. If you’re walking, make that 14 minutes. That’s quite a chunk of time. If your company’s mantra is to go the extra mile in addition to all the other miles that need to be done, you may well end up winning a few customer service awards. But you could also go out of business.

If all your employees are falling about themselves “going the extra mile” and being eager to please  the customer, you may be creating more problems than you solve.

  • A great deal of time could be wasted
  • A lot of extra energy could be expended
  • You’re attempting to raise service to levels that cannot be sustained consistently, thereby creating as much disappointment as delight
  • You run the risk of weakening your negotiating hand and being taken advantage of

These things are bad for business. So any company that states that the sole reason they are in business is to serve their customers is only telling the truth if they understand that customers include the internal as well as the external customer and shareholders. This is a guiding principle of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group of companies. They pride themselves on high levels of service, but will not tolerate their staff being abused by customers.

Customer service principles seem logical and easy to understand. Yet in practice consistently great service seems more tricky, particularly in large organisations. So perhaps it’s prudent to set service level expectations for your people at sustainable levels. By all means encourage them to delight – but this skill can be used selectively when it’s needed to create impact.

For my part, I’m perfectly happy to be dealt with courteously in reasonable time. I also expect a product or service to deliver on it’s promise. If we can “do as we would be done by” the vast majority of our customers should and will remain satisfied. 

Paul du Toit, CSP, GSF. SASHoF

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