Great customer service is a three course meal – food for thought on retaining customers

Great customer service is a three course meal: Food for Thought on Retaining Your Customers

Have you recently had a poor customer service experience that left a bad taste in your mouth?

A few years ago I went through a rather tedious experience moving from one internet service provider to another. The lack of customer service I received in the process of moving, was shocking. Numerous calls to close out a really simple cancellation transaction and a total disregard of the value of time – a huge waste of time but an opportunity to reflect and learn from the experience.

The process of cancellation reminded me of the old saying:

What makes a really great meal?

Do you remember what was the last really great meal you had?

Hence, what made it such a great experience?

What makes a really great meal is subjective. For me, it includes many things such as:

  • time spent on the planning;
  • the right ingredients that will add flavour and a little bit of mystique;
  • finding the right combination for the perfect recipe;
  • tasting the flavours and trying to work out what went into the dish;
  • the experience – the memories it bring back, the places it takes you;
  • good company;
  • the right number of courses;
  • the element of surprise.

You can add more things to the list. It is a subjective experience – similar to how we experience customer service.

You are only as good as your last meal.

Customer service is only as good as your last connection.  In addition, customer service requires attention over the whole life cycle and not only when we are trying to sign up a customer.

The life cycle of customer service reminds me of going to a restaurant for a three course meal.

Your meal can either be a really great experience or will leave a bitter taste in your mouth. The meal will either want you to come back again or you may vow never to return again.

This particular internet provider’s last meal was a flop.

The three course meal of customer service: food for thought.

To keep our customers happy, we have to take care of all the courses and phases of the customer life cycle, not just the the entree – not just signing up more new customers.

We therefore have to plan to make sure that we have:

  • all the right ingredients,
  • the right combination,
  • the setting,
  • appropriate skills, tools, systems,
  • experience,
  • we provide good company and ultimately
  • deliver on our promises through out the total life cycle of our services.

Hence the life cycle of customer service spans across a number of steps and processes:

  • planning to attract customers;
  • your entree – signing up your customers;
  • the main meal – keeping your customers happy, so they can refer more customers back to you;
  • and not least – the dessert – making sure when customers leave that they would want to come back one day;
  • clean up – learn, review and refresh.

Also, we often think that customer service belongs to the world of suppliers, contractors and service providers only. We all have customers – even when we don’t run our own business.

You have internal and external customers in whatever business you are. The life cycle of customer service applies to all of us.

Planning: Attracting customers

The planning stage is really important before preparing a meal.  One needs to:

  • find the right ingredients,
  • plan the menu to make sure that you have the right combination,
  • make sure you have the right skills, the right tools and
  • decide what you will charge.

Similarly when planning to attract customers, we need to spend a lot of time on planning.


  • what ingredients we will offer,
  • how we will offer products and services
  • in the right combination with the right skills, systems, tools
  • in order to make sure that our value proposition aligns with our price.

We often spend a lot of time to work on the planning phase – we often also spend a lot of time working on attracting new customers away from the competition. However, we often forget to focus on existing clients and make sure that we retain existing customers. This is equally important.

The planning phase should therefore include both the attraction and retention of customers.

Signing up customers: The Entree

The starter sets the scene of any meal.

It is the first delivery of the promise of what is to come for the rest of the meal.

Similarly – we often find that in the sign up phase customers are attracted to sign up with additional value and offers. There is a lot of focus on the entree phase of customer service.  The focus is on impressing new customers.

However, an entree only lasts that long and eventually your competitors will lure customers their way with their promising entree.

On the other hand, existing customers are offered the “same old same old”.  No wonder may businesses lose  customers to competitors’ offerings.

The main meal: Focusing not only on Attracting but Retaining Customers

In the case of my old internet provider, I was offered unlimited broadband in about year 5 of being a customer.

However, the speed of the broadband was slower than an ox wagon due to the age of phone lines in the area. Thus, unlimited broadband at ox wagon speeds  did nothing much to improve their value offering.

Hence, the main meal became quite stale even when they added some tinsel to give it a pretty appearance (if you look back to the top, pretty was not one of the things on my list of what makes a great meal…..).

Just think about it.

You have the great chef slaving away at the kitchen to prepare a wonderful meal and you can smell the lovely flavours. Yet the waiter is on break, the maitre’d is asleep and your food takes ages to get to your table.

Ice cold.

Good food would still taste ok but just taste ok. And it does not even look so pretty any more.

So unless you spice up the menu, fire the maitre’d or employ more waiters, your incredible offer ends up being an empty promise.

And your competitor lures your customers – with the great chef, the right tools, the friendly waiters and a maitre’d that keeps an eye on the dining room and an entree offer that makes your customer feel valued.

As a customer, would you hang around for the promise of something that may eventually happen?

It is in this phase where we do not spend enough time and thought on how to retain current customers. Because satisfied customers will bring more customers to the table instead of being pulled away from your table to your competitor’s table.

Therefore it makes sense to look at what you offer your current customers. The ones who know you already and the ones you would not want to peek into the window of your competition.

Make it easy for customers to leave BUT easier to come back: The Dessert

Are you one of those people who look at the dessert first to decide what you will have for your main? Just to make sure that you leave enough space for the dessert?

To me dessert finishes off a lovely meal perfectly. And in this case, the saying is really spot on:

You are only as good as your last meal.

Although there was a rapid decline in customer service over the last 12 months, I still had some loyalty to my old internet provider.

Somewhere in the future, I may even have gone back to them when I did not live in an area with the oldest phone lines.

At that stage, they could not provide what their competitor provider offered – cable internet until when NBN would finally arrive. Thus, leaving them was a decision based on what was available not who could be the best provider.

However, they made it so difficult to leave that I decided that I will not return.

And no, I did not break any contracts or had to pay any penalties as such. I had not been on a contract for many months.

READ MORE: Goal Setting: Take Time to Connect, Reflect and Set Goals>> 

All it was, was a simple call to cancel.

However, what should have taken 5 minutes, took over 5 hours of wasted time to complete.

The “friendly customer rep” and the  “help us help you” experience or lack thereof left such a bitter taste in my mouth, that I vowed not to return.

Not only will I not return, but when I am asked for my opinion about them, it will not be to recommend them.

And therein lies the lesson:

Make it easy enough for your customers to leave you so that it will be easier to come back in future.

READ MORE: Your Capability Statement is about your Customer – More than it is about You or Your Business>> 

Cleaning up: Thinking how to keep your customers coming back for more

This is the bit that your customers will rarely see – when you wash the dishes, clean up the kitchen and look at how the meal went.

But it is an essential component of every meal to make sure that your next meal or value offer is even better than the one you delivered last.

It is the time to determine what worked well and what did not work.

Reflection allows you the opportunity to look at how you can do things better – bring in the element of surprise to your customers – old and new.

And then start all over again – tomorrow.

Food for thought

I am leaving you with a few questions as food for thought:

  • How well are you going with providing customer service over the whole life cycle of your value proposition and customer experience?
  • How good was your last meal – good enough to retain your customers and to attract new ones?
  • Will you make it easy for your customers to come back?

I hope you have a great day!

Celia Jordaan


Do you need help with reviewing or developing your customer service strategy and plan? Celia Jordaan is experienced in contract management and managing customer service and delivering results, even in complicated scenario’s. Contact us today to learn how we can assist you.

About the Author:

Celia Jordaan has more than 30 years international and corporate experience and worked in the areas of procurement, tenders, supply chain, contract management, law and risk. She works with business of all sizes and industries, procurement leaders and teams to develop and implement strategies to boost business performance, make tendering easy and improve bottom line performance.

To learn more about Celia Jordaan, please click here.

For more information on how we can assist your procurement team, your business with tendering or strategic business development and planning, please send us an email today.

Ichiban Commercial Solutions Procurement Advice and Tendering Solutions Celia Jordaan

Contact Ichiban Commercial Solutions Today

Please let us know how we can work with you on improving your tendering, procurement capability and working with you on your business growth.