I’ve long felt that a company’s ethos creates its customer’s experience. When both employees and customers are valued you can sense it a mile off.  And when they’re not, it shows like laddered tights against a posh frock.

This week I’ve been treated to two extremes.  But that’s not where I’m going to start.

Customer love

My gold standard for a great service ethos is my good friend Heather Barrie of Harries Food.  Commuters from lovely Arundel in Sussex, England will know Harries, because Heather runs the coffee stall on the station each morning.  And she just loves her customers.

The stories are many, and the verdict seems unanimous – she’s brilliant. She will bend over backwards to give harrassed travellers a good send-off. Her biggest concern as she grows?  Finding staff who will love her customers as much as she does.

‘Sorry we’re too busy to answer the phone…’

At the opposite end of the service scale this weekend was Interflora. My Mum is in a care home 5 hours’ from me.  I ordered flowers for Mothers’ Day to be delivered to my Dad’s house on Saturday so that I could take them to her before driving home on Sunday. Normally I call the florist directly, but I no longer know one florist from another in my birth town, so I took what I thought was the easy way out and ordered online. Wrong decision.

At 05.48 on Saturday, I received an email telling me the flowers were on their way as requested. At 10.58, another email informed me that they would not now be delivering them until Sunday.  No explanation, just a refund of the carriage and the offer of a discount on the next order. They had let me down at an important moment.

I naively tried calling the number in the email.  Maybe I could get the flowers re-routed to the care home? Nope. A recorded message informed me that they could not make any changes to Mothers’ Day orders (even though they just did!) and they were too busy to answer my call. I replied to the email indicating that the new arrangement was unacceptable and why.  I received an automated acknowledgment.

There was nothing for it. I went into town and bought a new bouquet for Mum so that I had flowers to take to her.  She hardly knew, but that’s not the point. She had flowers. From me.  In person.

On Sunday, I drove home.  The Interflora flowers were finally delivered just as I arrived back in Southampton.

On Monday, I received an email from Interflora.  It informed me that the flowers had been delivered on 3rd April at 12.42, and that a signature had been obtained.  No acknowledgement of my complaint.  I replied immediately pointing this out.  I am still waiting for a response.  Interflora?  Hello?

‘We promise we’ll keep you updated…’

Now for the other extreme. If you read my last post, you’ll know that I dropped my mp3 player down the loo in the middle of the night. It took a long time to dry out.  So long that my other half revised his opinion about its survival chances and I ordered a new one.

The new player was promptly shipped from China. Four days in, it was flagged up by the courier, FedEx, as being stranded in Chinese Customs, labeled a possible ‘hazardous item’.

Oh what a different experience. I called the number on the tracking email.  The woman who answered knew her business, and quickly established that this could take a while.  ‘We’ll call you when we know what’s happening’, she promised.  And they did. Twice.  Once to say they still weren’t sure when it would be free, and then to say it was on its way, what its route would be, and when it was likely to arrive.

Both callers gave their names, both were confident and both sounded as though they enjoyed what they were doing. They were brilliant.  I know it’s at Stansted now, and I am pretty sure it will turn up tomorrow.

And my point is…?

A few years back, I worked with another of my favourite clients, FrontLine Telephone Answering Services.  They wanted both to establish a great service for their customers and an inclusive and supportive workplace for their staff.  You can get the case study describing how they did it here.  My point is this:  it takes a huge amount of focused, intentional work to create great customer service, and it takes authentic, confident staff buy-in to keep the show on the road. And if you put in the work, the business stands a good chance of growing.

I’ve been in organisations that understood this, and I’ve been in ones that didn’t.  I don’t know how things are at Interflora, or at FedEx, but I do know that when you have miserable customer service, it is often delivered by miserable staff. And vice-versa.

So FedEx – well done and thank you.  And no, Interflora, I will not be taking you up on your offer of a discount on my next order, because I shall never, ever give you an order again. Why?  Because Mothers’ Day is not always a jolly time, you let me down, and I don’t believe you care.