Put the Customer Ahead of Customer Service Checklist

Putting the Customer Ahead of the Customer Service Checklist

As managers and owners, we have to take care that the systems we put in place to manage and ensure great customer experiences do not create robotic procedures that can be counter to the very experiences we are trying to create.

In the post Customer Service Training: Principles Trump Procedures, I told the story of a fast casual employee whose stubborn insistence on taking my food to the table for me took a great customer service process and turned it into something more negative than positive. Why? Because it seemed like the employee had to perform the task, whether it added value or not.

I recently had an experience with AAA, the roadside assistance company, where I experienced a similar interaction regarding what seemed like the rote following of a customer service procedure.

Now, I mention AAA by name only because the total customer experience I had with the company was amazing! A 99 out of 100. And though this post might be dedicated to the “point they missed,” my experience with AAA was superlative from start to finish.

First, here’s a quick rundown of some of the excellent touchpoints in my experience with AAA:

  • The phone call was a breeze. If you have AAA, then you know that the first question the rep asks you establishes if you are somewhere safe. The company gets right to the heart of what matters. If you are not somewhere safe, little else is going to matter to you.
  • When I took my card out of my wallet, I realized that it was expired. Now, I knew my account was still active, as I had recently seen the envelope with the new card come in the mail. However, it was lost in a sea of stacked papers somewhere. No matter. AAA did not care. I was current, and the paperwork was irrelevant.
  • I asked if the expired card would be an issue when the tech arrived. The rep said that I wouldn’t even need the card; “once they get the go ahead from me, you’re all set.”
  • After I established that I was at home and not on a tight timeline (I had a flat tire in my driveway, and my first meeting was not for a few hours), the AAA rep set expectations about when the repair tech would arrive, described the process well, and then confirmed that I had no questions.
  • The service tech was great. He called to let me know he would be there within 45 minutes out and then showed up earlier.
  • He was extremely friendly. I actually spoke with him while he changed the tire, as I wanted to see how he did a couple of things in case I ever had to do it myself. I learned that he was a AAA employee and that in the larger metro areas, AAA used their own team for flat tires and other non-tow events. All of my AAA experiences previously had been with subcontracted services. Obviously,  AAA created systems to maximize their customer experience in places where it could scale effectively.
  • Finally — and I think I loved this touch most of all — when the tech was done, I asked him if there was any paperwork to sign, and he said no. He said all that was left to do was to shake hands, and he removed his work glove, extended his hand, and bid me good day.

The experience with AAA was truly Hero-ClassTM., from the professionalism of the phone call to the systems setup to create a seamless experience.

Put the Customer Ahead of Customer Service ChecklistThe only blip in the experience was that the service tech offered me a bottle of water when he arrived. Of course, this is a great touch! Imagine being stranded by the side of the road in Florida, and the first thing the AAA tech does after greeting you is offer you a bottle of water. An excellent service moment.

The only catch was, I was at my house and didn’t really need the water, so I told the tech “no thanks.”

He kept the bottle extended, and said something like “it’s not trouble, it’s part of our service.”

I thanked him but told him he didn’t need to waste the bottle on me, and sort of put my hand up to indicate that I didn’t want it.

I had now refused him twice.

However, he extended the bottle towards me further, and said something to the effect of “I’m supposed to make sure every customer gets a bottle of water.”

As I did at the fast casual restaurant, I simply acquiesced and thanked him. It wasn’t a big deal to me; it was, however, a small blemish on an otherwise perfect experience.

Now, I should be clear that he was super professional and friendly throughout the exchange. He was not pushy, just insistent. I didn’t get the sense that the tech would be in trouble for not giving me the water. In fact, he was highly complementary of AAA (said he loved working for the company) and was too much of a professional to indicate otherwise even if it were true. I just got the sense that the water bottle was on a checklist somewhere and that it was important to make sure it was done.

So, the moral of the story is that the customer should always come before the checklist, the principle should always trump the procedure. Make sure your teams understand the why behind the processes you have created around customers, then give them the flexibility to adapt the processes to what the customer wants, not what the supervisor’s report asks.

It is a lesson is one that even the greatest customer service organizations can be reminded of from time to time.


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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