Customer service should make promises – and then beat them

Customer Service Should Make Promises -- And Then Beat Them

On Thursday evening around 9 p.m. I received a call from my bank (Royal Bank of Scotland).

It was an automated call and, after going through some security checks, the automated voice asked me to confirm whether a series of recent transactions on my current account were mine or not.

I listened to the details of a series of transactions and indicated that I didn’t recognise any of the transactions.

Once I had done that, I was connected to one of the bank’s agents, a member of their anti-fraud team. The agent explained that the bank, as part of it’s anti-fraud efforts, tracks and monitors transactions on my account against my historical spending records and flags up potential issues when purchases are not ‘on trend’.

Discussing the transactions with the agent, I told her that I wasn’t responsible for any of them and had no knowledge of them. She then said that my bank card had obviously been compromised and that she was going to cancel it, order me a new one, arrange to block any pending transactions on my account and refund me for any that had gone through.

At the end of the call, the agent then told me that my card had now been cancelled and an order for a new card had been placed. She went on to explain that a new one would take up to four working days to arrive.

The wait didn’t worry me given that the bank had removed the threat of fraud on my account. But, given that it was Thursday evening and my new card may not arrive til Weds of the following week, I was thankful that I had enough cash and other cards in my wallet that would see me through til then.

On Saturday (yesterday), however, I noticed that my new card had arrived in the post and was ready to use.

I was surprised and grateful to the bank for getting it to me so soon, especially since the agent had mentioned that it could take up to 4 working days to arrive.

Then, as someone who specialises in customer service and experience strategy, I began to wonder about the whole process.

I began to wonder if the bank and the agent had over-performed? Or, did they just manage my expectations and give themselves the right amount of leeway to make sure that they were able to deliver on their promise?

I don’t know.

However, what they did do is not let me down, surprise me and exceed my expectations, albeit expectations that they set.

Too often have I experienced and heard stories about firms saying they are going to do something for them not to deliver or to meet their own promises. As I wrote about in “The Customer Service Strategy With The Best RoI”, neuroscience research tells us that this is a dangerous strategy as human beings react “disproportionately to losses in comparison to gains.”

Therefore, for the bank to set expectations and then beat them delivered to them a ‘double whammy’:

  1. They didn’t let me down and, thus, minimised any disappointment I may have feared; and
  2. They surprised me when they ensured my new bank card arrived much earlier than expected.

I’m not sure how much of this is part of the bank’s customer service strategy. I hope it is.

However, the lesson is this: when it comes to customer service and understanding our customers, companies could do very well by making promises and then setting out to beat them.



This post was originally published on my column here.

Photo Credit: bending light via Compfight cc

7 comments On Customer service should make promises – and then beat them

  • Adrian,

    I wonder the same thing. Do they pad the time to exceed expectations?

    Like the airlines, when they tell you what the flight time will be..

    I used to fly a particular route every other week for almost two years… the itinerary always showed we’d land at a certain time, but I learned quickly that flying time was really only an hour and 20 minutes, not two hours, like the itinerary showed. We would always show up at least 30 minutes early, depending on what time we left the gate. (Which invariably often meant that the gate at the destination wasn’t available yet, etc.) The problem is that it starts to set expectations. Hmm, could I schedule meetings at my destination 30 minutes earlier? But then, what if the flight got held up?

    Is exceeding expectations a good thing? Are we just being manipulated? Are they all just playing a game so that we feel like we are well taken care of? What if there was a system in place to catch the fraudulent activity before it even happened? What if those transactions had never gotten approved in the first place? That’s when I’d be delighted! Makes me think of my blog post from yesterday about “customer safety nets.”

    Annette 🙂

    • Hi Annette,
      In defense of the bank, the transactions had not yet been approved and it was their anti-fraud system that flagged them, blocked four out of five and then retrospectively blocked and refunded me for what I would have been charged for the fifth. I was pretty impressed with that.


  • An interesting question Adrian, I think if it is a one off (as yours hopefully will be) then it is a good thing.

    If however as in Annette’s case it is a serial event then that is bad.

    Personally I like my customer service of the Swiss Rail type. The train turns up exactly when they said it would do. That however is probably the most difficult type to pull off.


    • James,
      I tend to agree. Consistently smooth, unflustered, in control and graceful business tends to be the exception rather than the rule. To make something look effortless tales a lot of time, energy, skill and commitment. Maybe one of those are where many fall down. I wouldn’t like to pick which one is lacking though.


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