The Icing on the Cake

Regular readers will know that I think the best, maybe the only way to deliver great customer service, is through employees who can put themselves in the customer’s shoes, own the problem and get it sorted. You need devolved power, transparency and the confidence to admit you are wrong coupled with the will to put things right. For me, great customer service, like great HR, goes way beyond its functional responsibility.

Picture the scene: We arrive at the Spectrum Leisure Centre in Guildford on a busy Sunday afternoon, with Keira and 8 other kids for an ice skating party.  The party is pre-booked as is the post party food, and the cake is in the back of the car. There are people buzzing everywhere, and out of the crowd appear some of the leisure centre staff. Instinctively they know the kind of groups they are looking for and just like that, our instructor Katharine introduces herself and the girls are off for some fun. Katharine turned out to be a good skater and instructor, and had everyone enjoying themselves, playing games on the ice, falling over and laughing. She was confident beyond her 16 years and did a great job.

After the skating – it’s burger time. The staff at the Wimpy were friendly, though we didn’t get the meals we had pre-ordered two weeks earlier (at their request). It was mainly a matter of size – we got junior instead of standard – and the very small portions just disappeared down nine hungry throats. A quick word with the manager and sure enough – he has delivered what he’d been asked to – so the order glitch was elsewhere. And he politely explained that his restaurant and the leisure centre were two different companies.

At this point I got that typical sinking feeling you get when things don’t go to plan. ‘Sorting this is gonna be a pain’. The customer service desk is closed on Sundays and we have two different companies pinging responsibility around – that kind of thing. I went to the main front desk and got a friendly, understanding response. ‘Leave it with us – we’ll check this out and come and see you soon’, came the reply.

Shortly after, the duty manager (I wish I had taken her name) came and found me and simply and honestly explained that the mistake was theirs, not the restaurant’s. No bluffing, no BS, ‘Here’s the money back we overcharged, we’re very sorry’. Now – I mentioned cake at the start of the tale, and here comes the icing on the service cake. Unprompted, the duty manager says ‘We’d like to offer you a complimentary visit to the leisure centre as a way of making up for our error.’ Nice touch – expectations well and truly exceeded, and here I am now writing about an example of good service and how to recover from a mistake.

What did I take away from the experience:


When you have to make a complaint – it really helps if a) you do it in a friendly way and b) the response is similar


Customer services was closed, and that didn’t matter. The duty manager owned the problem. I think a sign of a healthy organisation is when functional lines can be blurred in pursuit of helping the customer. Good customer service is a lot like good HR – they should be practiced all across the business, way beyond their functional responsibility.


The Spectrum Leisure Centre made a mistake, they acknowledged it, said sorry and put it right.

Icing on the cake

The Spectrum Leisure Centre exceeded my expectations, unprompted and with a genuine sense of goodwill.

We are quick to judge when things don’t measure up to expectation. I think it’s just as important to highlight when things get put right too.

How To Damage Your Brand. Just Say ‘It’s Not My Job’

‘Nope – I can’t help you with that, it’s not my job.’ How often have you heard that? I don’t even care that it might be true – ‘it’s not my job’ is a crappy and unhelfpul way to deflect an enquiry. It sucks when it happens between one employee and another and it goes off the scale when you are the customer. Too many brands think it’s an imperative to be social when it comes to broadcasting their message, and are apparently less keen when it comes to delivering service. Let me give you a current example:

At the beginning of this week I heard from Lisa-Mari about some problems she is experiencing with Sony, and specifically, a laptop that won’t stop misbehaving. Lisa Mari has tried to deal directly with Sony but after a series of blunders and failed promises, she contacted them via Facebook and Twitter. Here’s how the story starts on Facebook:

A very understanding opening from Lisa-Mari. She apologises for contacting Sony publicly and even says please when she asks for help. Then we move to:

As I type – there’s been no further follow up from Sony, despite a small bunch of people chivying them along on Twitter too. If your brand is online, then your job is customer services, end of story. And if you don’t get that I suggest you turn out the social lights, go home and let a more responsive company deal with your ex customers.


I went into a branch of ‘the world’s local bank’ today to enquire about depositing some funds. I explained I wanted to pay in a cheque and that I had all my UK ( I really stressed that bit) bank account details and the relevant international information too. I was told this would be ‘no problem’ so I went on my way, planning to drop into another branch nearer my apartment later.

On arrival at my closest branch I was met with a more frosty reception altogether. I say frosty, it felt more like ‘I couldn’t give a shit, I’m not going to help you please go away’. They couldn’t access my details at this branch so I was sent to the main branch on 5th Avenue. The 5th Avenue branch is a grand place – fitting of an international bank, but they were as unhelpful as their neighbours. I double checked, ‘You are the world’s local bank?’ I asked. ‘Yes sir, we are’ came the reply. ‘But I can’t deposit this US cheque into my account?’ ‘No, you can’t’.

I clearly misunderstood what the term ‘world’s local bank’ meant and left, feeling bewildered. On the way out I took a photo of the sign in reception. Admittedly it’s a poor picture, but can you see that word in the top left corner?

World's local bank