The Cost of Customer Service


By David Siddiqui

Customer service is a core element of our work and our culture. By design, incorporating energy advising into energy efficiency programs streamlines the customer experience and offers property owners an independent expert watching out for their best interests. Furthermore, the ongoing follow-up creates the opportunity to build genuine relationships with real people.

What does it take to maintain excellence in customer service? For starters, it helps to have forward-thinking clients that prioritize customer service, and we are fortunate that all of our clients fit that description. (Achieving high customer satisfaction will be important for utilities as they adapt with a changing industry.) From an operational perspective, it takes well-defined policies and processes, initial and ongoing training for staff members, quality assurance, quality control, customer satisfaction surveys, and organization-wide commitment. From a culture perspective, it takes genuinely caring for the well being of your customers and constantly looking for opportunities to improve their experience.

There is undoubtedly a cost to ensuring that all of these elements are in place. But, setting aside for the moment that it is simply the right way to treat people, the cost of dealing with a bad reputation and a steady stream of customer complaints can threaten your entire organization. When your team members truly care about making your customers happy, customer service does not need to be expensive, as the following anecdote demonstrates.

In a recent customer satisfaction survey, one of our customers was asked how she would describe her experience with the service. Her response was:

“Wonderful. Kevin’s advice and support gave me the confidence to take on a major home improvement without fear. He is patient (even when I say “I can’t think about this today”). He is knowledgeable (he answers all my questions and helps me understand rationales and outcomes). He stays in contact, not only with me but also with the contractor to insure that I have full advantage of everyone’s expertise and resources. I am so happy to have met Kevin and to be the beneficiary of the good work he and Populus are doing. Oh, yes, he is enthusiastic and loves his work–it is contagious.”


When asked if there was anything we could have done better, her response was, “You could bring me dark chocolate. Everything else was perfect.”

Taking the opportunity to brighten her day, I mailed her a package with a bar of organic dark chocolate and a greeting card saying that I was pleased to hear that she had a great experience working with Kevin, but I was concerned to hear that the lack of dark chocolate made her experience less than perfect.

She loved it, and followed up by email:

“What can I say? I have never been so well treated by any L.L.C. (I’ll have to admit that those initials do instill a certain degree of dread in me). You (collectively) provide a much needed service and you (individually) show a high degree of personal dedication and customer support. I feel that Kevin is genuinely concerned that I do what is best for me and that I receive the best service possible. Now I see that his caring is encouraged and supported by his director. Thank you very much for the dark chocolate (Paul Newman, no less). It is providing a much appreciated pick-me-up as I sand and paint-over all the insulation holes in my walls. Populus is Perfect (and you can quote me).”


Chocolate bar: $3.39
Greeting card: $3.99
Turning an already happy customer into a true fan and spreading some positive feelings around in the process: Priceless