Some observations on the customer service awards

Dec. 8, 2005
First, I'd like to thank MACHINE DESIGN for the invitation to participate as a judge in the magazine's customer service awards.

Ron Rosenberg

Ron Rosenberg
Certified Speaking Professional
Quality Talk Inc.
Raleigh, N.C.

Having reviewed the submissions, I found just three that were, in my opinion, a cut above the rest. I would also like to make one important observation: the descriptions of many of these "exceptional-service" scenarios seemed to me to be nothing more than the normal level of service one has a right to expect from any vendor. Let me give you an example.

When I worked in industry, before starting my own company, the HR department introduced a "spot award" program where individual managers were allowed to give $50 AmEx "gift checks" to members of their teams who demonstrated outstanding performance. Once a month, senior managers and directors got together to review the distribution of these awards and ensure that they were being given out equitably. That is, they made sure that one manager's definition of "exceptional" was consistent with the next manager's definition.

One after another, the first-line managers got up and presented on a case-by-case basis the different behaviors and accomplishments they felt warranted this special recognition. After a while I began to notice a pattern, and I asked the person presenting, "Isn't what you're describing as exceptional performance really this person's main job?" It was, and I added: "Then that person already gets a special spot award every two weeks. It's called a paycheck." In other words, these people were being recognized and rewarded for doing nothing more than what they were paid to do in the first place.

When you go to the amusement park, on some of the more extreme rides, there is usually a wooden cutout of a character holding out a ruler with a recorded voice that says, "You must be as tall as this to ride..." In other words, there is a minimum height to ride this ride. I believe this concept is largely ignored in business today. If you are going to be in business — any business, there is a similar "minimum height" in the form of a basic level of service that can be reasonably expected. I could fill a book with stories of poor service compounded by an even more abysmal handling and resolution of these problems by the company's senior management.

Bringing all of this back to the submissions I reviewed, many — if not most — of these didn't seem at all like examples of "above and beyond" customer service, but rather the behavior a customer should reliably expect from a vendor.

The fact that many readers feel this level of performance constitutes something special speaks volumes on how we have been conditioned as a society to accept mediocre service. (By the way, this is the main reason we launched the Drive-You-Nuts.comWeb site — to give people the tools, strategies, and resources they need to get the service they deserve.)

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