Customer service—an overlooked advantage for 21st century marketing

By Gale Grimmenga, Principal Creative Impulse  ( There are so many pros to our digital information technology age—endless information at our fingertips, speed-of-light communicating, services/products available with a click, and fly-on-the-wall perspective of our daily life. But as a customer, I find myself wondering, am I being served? Customer service. We hear the words often enough, but many times frustration and not feeling served are the norm. We often don’t get the pleasure of a real person and, if we do, the person’s response is like a corporate robot reading from a prepared and tested script. We get voice-automated systems saying ‘in order to serve you better, blah, blah, blah.’ then 10 minutes in, we are no closer to being served. Now we even pay for the customer service as an extended warranty, maintenance package, or in my case AppleCare. Or how often do you hear, ‘Well I can’t do that, the computer won’t let me’? I actually heard those words from my bank as they tried to correct an error they made in my account—it required three trips to three branch banks, two bank managers, and one vice president, and was finally resolved via a convoluted, albeit creative, method that corrected their mistake. (This bank markets itself as having great customer service.) The other day I heard a metal ladder clanking around in the backyard. I quickly looked out the window and saw a service man climbing the telephone pole with his waist belt studded with tools, hard hat on head—apparently my neighbor was having some repairs. What luck! (Having had a cable guy out some years back to replace the Internet cable (long story), he failed to properly secure it to the pole; consequently, during storms it flaps around.) As I moseyed out to ask this repairman if he could secure the wire, I thought ‘He probably won’t be able to. He might be from the other company and won’t be able to touch that Internet cable or it’s against corporate policy, or blah, blah, blah.’ I even prefaced my asking with ‘Well I don’t know if you are allowed to do this, but . . . ’ In fact he could not, although he was quite nice about it. Back in the house I thought, ‘Gale, how hard is it to just call and get the cable guy out again? Yes, it’s silly—another repairman, another truck, another trip, another ladder, another climb up the same pole. It seems absolutely ridiculous to spend so much time, effort, and money to just tap a few U-nails over that wire.’ About 15 minutes later there’s a knock at the door and the service man says he was able to secure the wire. I knew this was a big deal—I was experiencing great customer service—genuine, direct, and face-to-face. This was someone doing the right thing because it makes sense and feels good to do so. I gratefully thanked him, and we segued into a fruitful conversation about customer service and the satisfaction of using one’s own initiative and common sense. He cared about craftsmanship and relationships and people. Many of the corporate policies (being distant and disconnected from the needs of customers) prevented him from providing genuine customer service. So can this kind of customer service translate into our digital era? Well, it’s not truly delivered by corporate policies or taglines or voice-processing systems or websites or apps or pithy ads. Its origins are in the direct acts of one person taking personal initiative and going the distance; any person in any profession. The marketing advantage: customers value it. I certainly do.