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Customer Service: Lessons from the Big End of Town

Over the holidays our team members bought products from 2 motor vehicle related companies, NRMA and O'Brien Glass (formerly Windscreens O'Brien). There were sharp contrasts in the quality of service provided so we decided to compare notes to identify insights and learning that can be applied to small and medium sized businesses.

The Purchases


A CTP Green Slip and a comprehensive car insurance policy were purchased from NRMA. The customer had previously been a customer of NRMA. The Green Slip purchase was simply a renewal of an existing policy but a new insurance policy was required.

O'Brien Glass

While away on holidays the windscreen of a car was severely cracked and required fixing immediately. It was just after Christmas and all local repair people were shut for holidays.

The Service Experience


Initially the customer called the service centre at which point customer was taken through a 5 layer auto-prompt menu before being able to speak to a person. After explaining what was required, he was informed that he needed to speak to the sales department and was patched through. After waiting in a queue, the sales person answered and the customer then needed to repeat all of the detail. The sales person then indicated they needed to generate a quote. Details were given and a quote was then provided. The price was right so the quote was accepted.

Then the quote was converted into a sale. To achieve this it was apparent that the sales person had to fill in information on a number of screens on the computer. Something went wrong during the process and a different price was generated. Unclear as to why this happened the sales person decided to run through the process again. Details needed to be provided again. More issues were encountered the 2nd run through and finally (after talking with a supervisor) the issue resolved and a policy was generated.

Then the CTP Green Slip needed to be renewed. The sales person indicated they had no idea how to do that and would need to pass the customer back to the service department. The sales person indicated that it was a busy day so there was likely to be a queue for talking to service people. At this point the customer was put into that queue. Seven minutes later the phone was answered. Details provided again and the process completed.

The customer was on the telephone for 1 hour and 10 minutes before the transaction was fully completed.

O'Brien Glass

The windscreen on the car was cracked at 2pm on a Friday afternoon during the holiday period. A couple of local repairers were initially called however they were shut for holidays. An O'Brien Glass van drove past at the right time prompting the customer to call their 13 number. The call centre was reached. The phone was answered by a person on the second ring. The customer explained the situation and that the windscreen needed immediate fixing. The customer service person got the details of the car and location. She was able to tell the customer immediately that they had the required windscreen in stock and provided a price.

Happy with the price the customer said they would like to proceed. The customer service person said the next step was to determine how quickly the local operator could get to us. To determine timing the customer was connected through to the local dealership in a 3-way telephone conversation. After introducing the customer, the customer service person provided the necessary details to the local operator. The local operator said they were extremely busy but given the urgency of the situation he would see if he could shuffle some other jobs. He indicated he would phone the customer directly within 30 minutes with a definite answer. He phoned back after 10 minutes and indicated the repairer was on their way.

Within 1 hour of initial contact the new windscreen was installed. Less than 10 minutes had been spent on the phone. Price checks indicated that they charged only $30 more than the cheapest local repairer, who was unavailable. The customer was highly satisfied and happy to pay the price premium.

What Can We Learn?

These are 2 isolated examples of service. At another time and place the customers may have had a completely different experience of these 2 companies. However as SME business owners there are some valuable lessons we can learn from these examples to help improve our own businesses.

1. Have you made it as easy as possible for people to buy from you?

The NRMA process was overly complex and seemed to reflect more of the internal structure of the NRMA than the buying process of the customer. The complexity of the process provides plenty of opportunity for thing to go wrong.

2. Do you take care of your customers?

The extra effort put in by O'Brien Glass went a long way to them earning a satisfied customer and a price premium. Their approach wasn't rocket science just good old fashioned service with a modern edge.

3. Do your team members understand each others' roles?

The NRMA split between service and sales departments may be unavoidable. But the sales person seemed very na?ve about how the service department processed Green Slips and could not answer some basic questions. This reflected poorly on the company and frustrated the customer.

4. Is your Information Management system streamlined and efficient?

Make sure your systems mean information only needs to be entered once and everyone can easily access the data they need to provide a quick and accurate response to the customer.

5. Is your brand visible in the right places at the right time?

The O'Brien Glass brand wasn't top of mind for the customer when the incident happened. However the passing van provided a timely prompt and a sale resulted. Look at ways you can ensure your brand is in front of your potential customers at the right time.

The Eyes Wide Open team hopes you find these observations useful in reflecting on your own approach to service. We certainly have put them to good use and determined some further refinements we will be making over the coming year.

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