The Devil is Really in the Details

Customers use detail management as an indicator of a service provider’s commitment to delivering a positive service experience. But, there is a more profound element of detail management that service providers often miss or misunderstand. As customers, there are core requirements we assume. We presume the commercial airline flight will be safe. We believe the fastfood we buy will not make us sick and hospitals are clean. And, customers are keenly aware of signals that leave them comforted or concerned about core requirements.

We call the details service air. No one notices the air in the room until it is removed or threatened and, then you can think of nothing else. The wonderful flight with great food, super-friendly flight attendants and a comfortable seat will be completely erased from the customer’s memory if the flight lands in the wrong city or four hours late. It means taking care of the basics is required if a great service experience is going to be recalled by customers as great.

But, there is an even bigger issue with poor service detail management. When passengers lower a serving tray on an airline and notice coffee stains, their negative reaction might not be about a sloppy cabin maintenance crew. It could trigger an intuitive leap to the condition of the plane’s engine and a fearful concern that the plane might crash. The customer’s perceptions about a bus driver with obvious alcohol breath are not just about the driver’s personal habits. A nurse with dirty hands shows more to a patient than simply shoddy hygiene. And, a trashy parking lot might cause concerns about food preparation in the kitchen. Some details are much more significant than others. Some take customers straight to the core requirements they would prefer to take for granted.

Take a close look at the details of your customers’ experiences. Are there signals that leave customers worried about “big deal” core requirements? Are you a constant guardian of the details that feed customers’ perceptions?

Writer Bio: Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of the best-selling book, Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers. They can be reached at