Service Essentials – Managing Customer Perceptions of Time

Service Essentials


Time is measurable – there are 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day

However, our perception of time varies

Sometimes time seems to drag, while at other times it goes quickly

We can keep our customers happy by managing their perceptions of how long it will take to get things done

If you are a customer, time will start to drag if your service provider is late on delivering on the promise

Time will drag more and more the longer the delay

The simple and low cost way of making time fly in your customer’s eyes is to keep them informed of progress

This is a simple, but often forgotten solution!

In this article, I am going to share with a simple, no-cost technique to create happier customers

This technique applies to business-to-business, retail and on-line relationships

Now that I have your attention, I am going to ask you a simple question: Is it possible for a customer service person to be nice to the customer, to do everything that can be done to help the customer, including solving the customer’s problem…and for the customer to still be dis-satisfied? The short answer is “yes!”

Let’s look at the world that we live in

In the age of the internet and instant gratification, speed is the new currency of success

Customers want things done quickly

In fact, taking a leaf from Brian Tracy’s teachings, you will increase your “service IQ” if you are able to do things quickly

Your customers will think that you are a smart supplier or service provider if you can do things with speed

And if you cannot do things as quickly as you or your customers would like, you can still maintain a high service IQ score by managing customer perceptions of time

Let me explain

Speed is the new currency of success 

I was sitting at a customer help desk of a bank branch in KL

In front of me was a very pleasant customer service representative

I wanted to open a new account

He was very friendly

We went through the forms and he explained what I had to do

So far, so good

He asked for my passport, and then got up from behind his desk and disappeared somewhere into back-of-office

I wasn’t sure what he was doing as he hadn’t explained it to me

This was okay, as he came across as an efficient person

I waited, and waited… After 10 minutes I started to fidget

At 12 minutes I was starting to get edgy

“What is taking him!” I thought to myself

Every minute that passed from that point seemed like 5

Time was really starting to drag, as my focus shifted from “He is nice and efficient” to “Why is he so inefficient?”

Before I go any further, I would like to take you backstage into the shoes of this customer service executive

This young guy was doing everything right

He may have had to make photocopies and then make a call to head office on my behalf

There might have been a delay getting through to the right person at HQ, so he may have had to wait

He was doing everything perfectly well behind the scenes, just as he had in front of me

So why was I upset with this person, despite him doing the right thing?

While the number of seconds in a minute is fixed, human perceptions of time are not 

The short answer is that he did not manage my perception of time

He did not say to me, “I have to do some paperwork and then call head office

I should be back in 10 minutes

Sometimes it takes up to around 15 minutes

Are you okay to wait? I can give you the local  newspaper to read…” Had he done this, do you think that my wait would have seemed as long? I don’t think so

While the number of seconds in a minute is fixed, human perceptions of time are not

For example, every parent shudders when their young or adolescent children utter the dreaded words, “I’m bored!” The children are saying that time is dragging for them and it is not a pleasant experience for them! Or you might recall, when nervously waiting for exam results, that every minute of waiting, every hour, seemed to drag on

Time is fixed, but the perceptions of time are not

I had an IT service provider who was a really nice guy

When he was in front of me, he was top class

He was technically proficient and got the job done

The only problem was that he did not deliver on time

If he was late for a 3 p


meeting at our office, I would give him 30 minutes benefit of the doubt (traffic, of course!) but after 30 minutes, my waiting time as a customer started to drag

And as time dragged on, I became more and more unhappy

We are doing renovations to an apartment

As a part of this process, we were referred to an interior designer

We met this person at the apartment on a Saturday

She got extra points for devoting part of her Saturday to us

She walked through the apartment with us and seemed to know what she was talking about

She had built my trust during that 45 minute meeting

As we parted company, she said that she would get a quote back to us in 2 weeks

As you might have guessed, 2 weeks turned into 3 weeks, and this eventually turned into a very long 5 weeks

Her “service IQ” had dropped considerably in our eyes

The difference between her building our trust and losing our trust was a 60 second phone call! 

After mentioning our concern to the person who referred this consultant to us, we received an apologetic phone call, asking us to meet the next Saturday

The only problem is that we are not sure if we can trust the reliability of this interior designer

All she had to do was to keep us informed as to what was happening

The difference between her building our trust and losing our trust was a 60 second phone call!

So, here is the simple, no-cost tip to creating happy customers: make sure that their perceptions of time with you flies

You do this by communicating what you have to do and how long it will take

And, if you are in the business to business market or on-line markets, keep them informed on progress – even if everything is progressing to schedule

My sister-in-law recently ordered a book on-line

She got an email within 12 hours, saying that her book had been despatched and that it normally would take 48 hours for delivery

She was totally relaxed with this news – and the book arrived on time

Your mission for the month is to meet with your team to brainstorm ways to give better service by making their perceptions of time fly

You will be surprised at what your time comes up with! Until next edition

A version of this article was first published in Berita BMCC, the Official Magazine of the British-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce March-April, 2011


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