Good Customer Service is About Exceeding Expectations

As I interact mostly with community bankers, I find that these professionals have a keen sense of the level of personalized service that they believe customers are seeking. They strive to meet and exceed that expectation. As I have written before, the advent of more convenient services available to customers at a time and place of their choosing allows those customers to elect how and when they access banking services.  This changes the customers’ expectations on what constitutes good customer service. If we as bankers do not make the necessary adjustments in what our customers “expect” our service levels to be and continue to provide a level of service that we feel is great, we will find a growing chasm of expectations from what we deliver and what our customers and future customers expect.

Consider your mobile banking app. The greatest risk to service expectations for that app is at the time the customer needs it; it is unavailable.  We’ve all heard tales of a bank who had their online banking / mobile banking systems go down for an extended period.  For those who depend on this channel for access to banking info and services, this is a potential fatal fail.  I’m not talking about the system being down between 2 and 5 am on a Sunday morning. I’m talking being down all day. Maybe for multiple days.  So you say, “Okay, I agree, but I don’t run the mobile banking app. What can I do to remediate that risk?” Start by having detailed discussions with your mobile vendor about their development processes and how they test their releases. Ask them about how they can roll back to a stable release if needed. Ask for a specific report of their downtime outside of contractual periods and the reasons for those outages.  You are looking for the Quantas Airlines of mobile banking, one that has never crashed.

Unlike a mobile banking app, how you respond to customers to remediate a service issue is totally under your control. But consider that there is a strange dichotomy between the level of service you provide and the customers’ expectations for it. The more you consistently come through for the customer, the higher the expectation for continued great service.  Now, don’t misunderstand this premise, those institutions that have built a great reputation for outstanding service are not going to lose customers over a small blip in service. You will have “banked” goodwill to overcome that.  Yet as you consistently perform over expectations, the customers’ expectations inch up.  It would be nice if we could keep the expectations steady so we could always know the bar we are reaching to soar over; however, the reality is great service begets more expectation of continued and increased great service.

Here are a couple of examples outside of financial services I experienced. One leisure company failed to meet, much less exceed my expectations while another one exceeded my expectations with flying colors.  I have already told this story about a dozen times, but it is worth repeating.

On a return trip from Denver, I arrived to the airport about 4 hours before my flight. Remembering there was an American Express Centurion Club in the C Concourse I decided to take advantage of my AmEx platinum card to gain access to the club. I accessed the AmEx app, clicked the link and was awarded QR code for entrance. I also received a message that indicated the club was almost full. Due to its limited occupancy, I immediately headed in that direction hoping to not have to wait in line. A very nice representative greeted me, and I showed her my QR code. Almost everything else that happened violated the extremely high expectation I have of American Express.

First, she needed my ID even though I had a QR code generated from the AmEx app. No problem, I used my LA Wallet app and displayed my authenticated Louisiana driver’s license for her, but she had to see the plastic.  Next, she needed my mobile boarding pass. Then she said I could not access the club since my flight was more than 4 hours from that time, and I had not arrived on a connecting flight. Not wanting to wait 45 minutes to get into the club I told the representative that this poor service was definitely not what I expected from Amex and left.

Oh, but it gets worse. I went back to B concourse to wait for my flight and decided I would let AmEx know that my expectations were violated. As an aside, know that any customer you might anger is unlikely to let you know about it. They’ll just tell twenty-five of their closest friends and business associates about your customer service “fail.”  I went to the AmEx site to find an email address for customer service and there didn’t appear to be one. I accessed chat and was quickly connected with a customer service rep who told me there isn’t a customer service email address. Chat is great for short form communication, but I needed to write out a narrative to let them know the details of that day and how I felt. AmEx has decided for David Peterson and others that chat is superior customer service over email and subsequently eliminated email as a customer service option. I do not agree. There were several times during this event that I thought maybe it was just a blip at the DIA Club. Over the years, AmEx has provided a lot of service for me, and they have banked some goodwill. Nevertheless, it was incongruous from the level of service I expect from AmEx.

Here is an example of exceeded expectation.  On the very same trip to and from Colorado, I rented a car from Hertz.  When I arrived at DIA, it was snowing pretty hard. I selected my car, fired it up, left the rental center and started up the mountains towards Silverthorne. About 15 minutes into my drive, the low fuel warning comes on.  What?  When you rent a car, it is always FULL.  I never even check, and they no longer ask that question at the checkout booth.  So, I had to exit the interstate and fill up with gas in a raging snowstorm. The bummer of it was that I had selected to buy the tank for this rental, so I was paying for gas twice!  To make matters worse, when I checked the gas receipt from the pump, it was completely blank!  Not a spot of ink on it. Grrrrrr.

I went online to and accessed their customer service options. They have an email for customer service, so I created an email that spelled out my issue.  I immediately got an automated response that my email was received. Take note bankers, this is an important feature that your customer service email service should mirror. Two days later, I got a response from a Hertz representative. Note, not a generic response, from a specific Hertz customer service representative.  First, he apologized for my issue. OMG, how simple and important to make this the FIRST step in remediating an issue!  He asked that I provide a receipt, and he would gladly issue a credit.  Since I had used my AmEx platinum card, I access the AmEx card website, found the gas charge and conveniently, AmEx included a small picture of a map showing the exact location in the Colorado where I had purchased gas (see AmEx, you really can exceed expectations, but it has to be consistent). Five days later, I received a credit for my gas purchase and a follow up email from the Hertz rep checking to make sure it all turned out okay.

What kinds of service levels are you dictating to your customers in the interest of providing what YOU think is the highest level of service?  Not offering an email connection option is a poor decision, just as deciding to not offer a chat option is. Further, when you know a customer is upset, you need to find a meaningful way to connect with them and see if you can make it right.  The chat agent knew I was trying to lodge a complaint, and when I said I was not interested in doing so over chat, could have forwarded my contact information to the help desk and someone there could have reached out to me.  If that had happened that would have likely remediated my need to vent and avoided this example of an AmEx customer service fail which is now online for everyone to read.  It is your responsibility to pay attention to anywhere and everywhere a customer might vent.

Don’t take your customer service levels for granted.  Examine each contact point and test it regularly to make sure that any contacts are followed up. Also, train all customer facing team members, whether in person or online, to respond like this: first, express sympathy, then determine what is the expectation for service and finally determine if there is an option for your organization to meet and exceed that expectation.  As digital service options expand and more of your customers are experiencing those options via other companies, their expectation of your service will shift.  Your ability to provide a range of customer service across different customers is key.  One size fits all personalized service is no longer going to be acceptable.  Each and every customer is like Goldilocks seeking to find the bowl that is “just right.”

If any of you have managed to gain successful entry to the Centurion Club in the Denver International Airport, please let me know at or 225-247-6113.

Check out the full story here.