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Customer service v’s customer satisfaction – what’s the difference?

December 2, 2008 Articles, Customer Service No Comments


Providing good customer service does not always ensure customer satisfaction.

I recently travelled on a regional train in Australia.   When booking my ticket I asked “What’s the difference between first and second class?”  The booking clerk’s response was “Oh, there’s a bit more leg room in first class”.

This experience reminded me of a presentation I once attended that was given by the General Manager of a major five star hotel.  He often asks his new employees, “What’s the difference between our $300 dollar a night rooms and a $100 per night room at another local hotel?”  He knew he was in trouble if the employee responded “$200″.

The difference between customer service and customer satisfaction is not “more leg room”.  Nor is it “$200″.  The difference is the feeling of customer satisfaction one experiences as a result of the service provided.  “Leg room” and “$200″ may well be accurate facts about the service, but they are not how the client feels about the service.

As a service provider, how does one start developing this feeling of customer “satisfaction”?

By developing a personal relationship.

There are at least three elements that lead to the development of a personal relationship between client and service provider and therefore achieving customer satisfaction:

  • the effective use of personal space
  • making a personal connection and
  • making the service experience memorable for the client

Take three experiences that exemplify this approach to achieving customer satisfaction.

1.  The effective use of personal space.

In the first I was fortunate enough to stay at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin recently.  After taking our details at the Check In, the clerk came around from behind the counter, introduced herself by name and explained and directed us to all the things we would be likely to need during our stay.  By joining us in “our space” on our side of the counter, she was giving us a welcome that would be similar to what we would get when visiting the home of a friend.  And, without being pushy or effusive.

Using personal space effectively is the first key to building a relationship by providing a positive first impression.  However keep in mind, it does require tact and sensitivity. If you master it, you are well on your way to achieving customer satisfaction.

2.  Making a personal connection

Closely related to “personal space” is the ability to make a personal connection.  The easiest way to do this is by using a client’s name.  How easy is it to do this?  Well, if one has the client’s name printed anywhere on the documentation, there is no excuse for not doing it.

Singapore Airlines has recently been nominated once again as the world’s best airline – they have certainly achieved customer satisfaction.  Now, there are probably many reasons for this.  However, I’m sure one is the fact that they always endeavour to use the customer’s name at every opportunity.  For example whether you fly first, business or economy class, when presenting your boarding pass at the gate the attendant will often say “Have a good flight Mr. Selden”.  Similarly when showing your boarding pass to the flight crew as you board, they will say “Welcome aboard Mr. Selden”.  Additionally, on occasions the Chief Steward has personally introduced themselves to me, shaken my hand and asked if I need anything, I should just ask.

We all love to hear our own name.  It indicates that we are actually a person with feelings, wants and needs and not something to be processed.  Using names is a great way to build a personal connection.  Of the three elements of building personal relationships, it’s probably the easiest to learn and apply.

3.  Making the service experience memorable for the client.

Of the three elements, this is the one that most requires the ability to “get into the client’s world”.

Some time ago, my wife employed a new manager who to take up the job, had to move herself and husband from Melbourne to Sydney.  During their first week in Sydney, we took them out to dinner at one of our favourite restaurants.  The meal went well, but the crowning glory came when the desserts arrived.  Piped in chocolate around the edge of our guest’s plates were the words “Welcome to Sydney”.  Had we arranged this with the restaurant?  No.  The waitress, through her brief discussion with us at the start of the meal had ascertained these details and passed them on to the chef.  I know that many years later, this couple still talk about the great welcome they got during their first week in Sydney. This is achieving customer satisfaction.

Developing a feeling of customer satisfaction is not rocket science.  It is very simple to train service providers in how to do this.  However, the real key to building personal customer relationships is the relationships managers develop with their people.  All the great training in the world will only be successful in developing internal customer satisfaction when top managers, middle managers and front line managers also:

  • effectively use personal space
  • make a personal connection and
  • make each management experience memorable for the employee.

Managers who model personal relationships are the key to ensure service providers do likewise.

© The National Learning Institute


About the Author -

Bob Selden is the author of the best-selling “What To Do When You Become The Boss” – a self-help book for new managers – see details at He’s also coached at one of the world’s premier business schools, the Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and regularly advises managers around the globe on their current challenges. Please add your comments to this article or contact Bob via if you would like some free advice on your current management challenge.


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