The Difference Between Service and Customer Service


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An unexpected lesson in customer service.

What’s the difference between service and customer service? I had never posed this question to myself until an experience at my local car dealer yesterday.

I had my vehicle in to get an oil change and other general maintenance, top off fluids, that sort of deal. When they called me back in to the service area, I was presented with a long list of issues that, of course, absolutely needed to be fixed or I’d ruin everything about my car. (Sarcasm implied) Accompanying the list on the last page was a potential $1,600 bill. Unprepared for that type of repair costs, (I went in for an oil change after all) the service agent and mechanic could sense my concern. Finally after deliberating over whether I should just bite the bullet and take care of all the concerns (and buy in to the idea that they were all actually issues to be concerned about) or if I should choose to wait and repair a few of the smaller issues later, the service agent, Heather, mentioned quietly that there may be a way she could get me a 10% discount. There had been an email circulated to existing customers for 10% off any repair over $100. I receive these emails, but never look real closely at them. Shame on me I guess, but at least now it felt like this service person was working for me, if even only a little.

After some prodding, Heather and the mechanic did some research on my service record to determine that most of these repairs had in fact been done once before and were covered under warranty. Annoying, but still music to my ears. I still needed to pay for new brakes, but a $400 charge was much easier to swallow than $1,600. The most interesting moment during the exchange, though, was when the service manager walked into the room and Heather went silent about the aforementioned coupon. It wasn’t until later, when walking to my new loaner vehicle, which was awesome (sarcasm again), that she apologized for not continuing our conversation earlier. She explained that some of the folks in their department are very secretive about the coupons and discounts, and that they encourage folks NOT to mention them if they are unaware.

Uhh, what?

This struck me. I realized that I came here to get my vehicle serviced, but felt like there was an element that goes unsaid when working with service groups or other retail businesses that involves actually serving the customer as well. This service department clearly wanted to service my vehicle, at least at full cost, but it wasn’t until one employee softened her heart that it truly felt like they wanted to serve their customer.

How often do businesses, ours included, preach about how they have great service or offer top quality solutions? All the time. It’s one of the primary messages that marketing departments blast at us on a daily basis. But when we truly take a minute to stop and think, we may need to remind ourselves that there are individuals just like ourselves on the other end of that deal, agreement, contract, or purchase. Mentioning the Golden Rule here feels a little cliche, but it’s as true in business situations as it is anywhere else.

All that said, I’m going to consider this a reminder not to mistake service for customer service and I’d encourage you to do the same. Whatever service looks like in your industry, trade, job, or career, we can apply this simple thought and have a positive impact on those with whom we’re working. That dealer may have lost a customer if it wasn’t for the kind actions of one single employee. You can bet you know who I’ll be asking to work with in the future.