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Do We Have To Go Back To The Future For Good Customer Service?


… by Judy Helfand

A little background:
Right out of the gate I admit I have never seen any part of the Back to the Future trilogy. Not one. If you asked me a Trivial Pursuit question about this series I would not know the answer, except that I do know the main character was played by Michael J. Fox. But it was not until last evening that I learned the name of the main character: Marty McFly! If any of you are wondering why I missed this trilogy here you go: From 1985 – 1990 I was raising two little boys, serving as a Vice President for a major New England bank and (with my husband) owning and operating a country inn, focusing on providing good customer service to build repeat business. More importantly, I don’t care for science fiction!

Now let’s talk about Super Bowl:

Did you watch the Super Bowl? Did you follow or participate in tweeting #brandbowl or #superbowl? I watched for the “show”: I like to hear our National Anthem, I like the Honor Guard, I like watching the commercials, and usually half-time offers memorable performances. I don’t live in an NFL city and the last Super Bowl team I really rooted for was my hometown San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. But today I want to talk about one of the commercials from Super Bowl XLV.

Can you guess which one? If you picked CarMax’s Back to the Future parody, then you are correct. But you know what? I think I might be one of a small minority that didn’t even realize this ad was a take-off of the Back to the Future’s Marty McFly character. Watch it here.

Do you know Good Customer Service when you see it?

When I watched this CarMax’s ad I didn’t think about Marty McFly (but of course, I didn’t even know about Marty McFly) I thought about what life was like when my own father owned a Service Station from 1955-1963. I thought about the first blog post I wrote in August 2007 SMO – The Old Fashioned Way. You see the keyword is Service. These were not just filling stations or gas stations, they were Service Stations. You felt comfortable when you pulled in, someone was going to help you with gas, air, water, oil, directions, a cold drink, clean your windows and provide a clean bathroom. You had your favorite service stations and the attendant probably knew your name.

What caught my attention in the CarMax ad is that the young Marty didn’t know what to make of all the service he was receiving and he didn’t trust what he was seeing. He was actually frightened. It is a funny little commercial, but the CarMax message is strong ‘At CarMax we believe that Customer Service shouldn’t be a thing of the past!’ That may be, but how many of us are like Marty? Do you know good customer service when you see it?

My father taught me about customer service. I have followed his example over the years with my customers/clients/guests and just yesterday I had a teleconference planned with a potential client. I was to call him at 11:00AM. I did. He answered the phone and after I introduced myself he immediately said: “I can’t believe it, you called me right on time!”

I know we are all pretty adept at tweeting and blogging when we don’t like something a company has done or not done (think Kenneth Cole or GROUPON™). Maybe part of the problem in our current business environment is that even though companies can communicate with potential customers using all the latest ‘tools’, it does not follow that those potential customers have the ability to recognize good customer service even when they see it. What tools do you use both as a provider and as a consumer?

Let me know what you think? Do you know good service when you see it?

Judy Helfand is an owner of Webconsuls, LLC., functioning as a Project Manager. She has worked for a number of Fortune 500 companies in both the banking and insurance industry and she has succesfully owned and operated two small businesses. Judy’s personal blog is Judy’s Op-Ed and she also writes and manages Webconsuls’ Blog. Feel free to follow her Twitter @judyhelfand.


  • Alyx

    Good customer service in the days of bad customer service is really the easiest way to “surprise and delight” a customer! Most of us have become so used to long lines and hold times, disinterested representatives with inadequate product education, unanswered emails and phone tag. It’s sad. (There’s one credit card in my wallet that I got just because of the “no wait times when you call our customer service, ever” selling point.) CS is the such an easy way to close the deal and maintain a customer relationship.

    • Judy Helfand

      Hi Alyx,
      Thanks for stopping by to discuss customer service. I do wonder if it sometimes boils down to teaching our team members, employees, co-workers…about customer service and on the other side of the coin consumers need to know how to acknowledge good customer service. Did you ever notice when a waitperson brings you something and you thank him/her and they almost look startled?

      If we learn to pay it forward and at the same time try to consider that something may be impacting service that is out of control of the person you are dealing with at the time. Good communication always helps.

      • Alyx

        So true. A little “please” and “thank you” can make a huge difference, on both sides of the customer service equation.

  • Keith

    I see customer service like I view a waiter or waitress at a restaurant. If you don’t like your job it is obvious and if you are fake it’s not much better. Being good at what you do makes a difference in a bank transaction and in dealing with Google AdWords where they reply to my email with a very, very long response filled with links and canned “cut and paste” jobs. If you ask me they don’t care– and this is the place with the highest talent, hundreds and thousands of applications per day.

    Good customer service does make a difference just like your dining experience is affected by the service. Good customer service agents go largely unnoticed as well.

  • Dick

    Sometimes good CS costs money, sometimes it doesn’t. Calling at a appointed time doesn’t cost anything. Having 3 people clean your windshield, check your oil, fill your tank does. There are stations near me that offer full service at a higher price per gallon. How many able bodied people use it?

    I certainly appreciate CS people who are well trained and courteous. Today I needed to get a question answered about benefits. I made the call to the 800 number, gave all my info to the robot, and was told I had a 5 minute wait. At this point I was not happy. Then a real person came on, verified it was still me, and then promptly and completely answered my questions. I felt much better about the process.

    I guess the real question is whats the proper trade off between cost and service? And when it does not cost anything then certainly provide the service.

    • Judy Helfand

      The thing about customer service is you really can’t afford not to provide it. I know what you mean about today’s gas stations. It has been a long time since they were really “service” stations. Self serve vs full serve is slightly different. Come to think about it a couple of months ago my husband asked me to stop and put air in our rears tires. I was shocked that not only was there no human being to help me I also had to pay for the AIR!

      Calling my potential client on time “cost me nothing”, but imagine if I had not called on time!!! A chance of a lifetime may have been lost.

      Thanks for joining the conversation.


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