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There’s much more to US customer service than “have a nice day”

Jun 24, 2018 | Corrugated Packaging, Packaging, Packaging Research and Analysis

During a recent trip to America, NOA’s managing director Neil Osment was struck by the truly excellent customer service he was treated to. Here, he writes about his experience and what the packaging industry can learn from our friends across the pond.

We all know that when in the States the “have a nice day” patois abounds. Whether it’s delivered with sincerity or not, it’s so commonplace that it’s partially lost its meaning.

But if it’s been a while since you’ve visited America, or if you’ve never travelled there, you’ll be pleased to hear that customer service has moved on a step or two from the simple service with a smile.

Now the Americans are developing a ‘have it on me’ culture by giving away treats to happy customers with the (presumably planned) effect that they end up buying more. I experienced this twice while in the States; I had a free salad, and two free coffees, both offered to me and delivered in such a nice way that I ended up spending more, delighting in a warm fuzzy feeling of being a valued customer.

Getting customer service right

I find this ‘have it on me’ culture fascinating, as it demonstrates a real drive on the part of many companies to truly excel at customer services.

With so few differentiators – price often driven down to the very bottom, and with competitors already offering such vast online ranges – providing great customer service can give a company the edge.

Amazon is one example of this. Of course, we all hear the stories of parcels chucked over fences, or left out in the rain but, accepting that no one company can be absolutely perfect, Amazon does a pretty good job. The firm is really making strides – did you know it owns the domain name That says it all.

By driving down delivery times, even for non-Amazon Prime customers, the retail giant is putting clear, blue water between itself and rivals and having an impact across the whole logistics arena, influencing the likes of Deliveroo as well as Uber.

Invariably topping polls for great customer service is John Lewis and its sister company Waitrose. Customers love the ‘never knowingly undersold’ tagline in the John Lewis stores, while the free newspapers and coffee for My Waitrose card holders mirror that US style ‘have it on me’ phenomenon.

I was also amazed by the American packaging companies I met when we were there. They were very ‘can do’ in their approach. Can our own packaging industry in the UK mirror this? Now there’s a challenge…

Speed plus efficiency equals a great service

While in the States, I heard a great presentation by Ed Renzi (former CEO of McDonalds) about his eye for detail in the pursuit of excellent customer service and brilliant customer experience. He puts success down to speed and efficiency.

My own experience of both speed and efficiency was at a fish and chip shop in Oxford, called Posh Fish. The staff all wore smart, black T-shirts and looked the part. The assistant took my order, writing it on the bag I’d take my food away in, and put it on a conveyor belt; three of her colleagues processed the order, under the watchful eye of a supervisor. I got my order within eight minutes, from start to finish. I had a good customer experience, and ordered, paid for and took delivery of my meal in super quick time.

I have come back to the UK encouraging my own team, in between beavering away at packaging market research, to explore ‘have it on me’ with our clients; we want them to feel greater commitment to us, which the occasional thank you in the form of a freebie will help to engender. For example, we gave away a photo touch-up the other day, at minimal cost which the client appreciated.

And when customer service goes wrong?

It happens, we get it, but when it does it leaves a lasting impression. Here is a cautionary tale.

I was at a conference recently in Sweden. One of the speakers (a buyer from the retailer Iceland) said he gave out a tender to ten packaging companies to come to him with ideas for swapping from plastic to paper based solutions; five were carton companies and five were corrugated companies. All five carton companies responded and in his timescale; of the five corrugated companies, only two managed to do so. Two!

In short, where the US and the likes of Amazon lead, then we – in the packaging world – really should follow. Time, surely, in this competitive world to learn the difference between good customer service and excellent customer service and make sure we provide the latter at every opportunity.

At NOA, we specialise in research, coaching and marketing services for the packaging industry. To find out how we can help with anything from research into packaging market trends, or to producing a corrugated packaging industry report, please get in touch.

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