On over-servicing

‘Service’, seems to be a pretty big buzzword nowadays. Quotes like ‘serve, don’t sell’ make sense – but there’s a thing like over-servicing too, to a point where it might become anti-servicing.

It first crossed my mind years ago, when I was taking back the bus in Sydney, Australia. This bus was old! Fine, but old. Unlike the Dutch buses, this one had no cushions in the seats, no LCD screens. Not even stop-buttons near every seat. Signalling the driver to stop went by pulling a thick wire which went all the way from the back of the bus to the front. But it worked just fine.


So the Dutch and Australian bus companies are using very different ways to improve their service. One is keeping their costs low, the other is trying to make the journey itself as comfortable as possible, at the cost of costs.

Amazon once sneered at Apple:
‘There are two types of companies; those that work hard to charge customers more, and those that work hard to charge customers less. Both approaches can work.’

That got me thinking; all I want from the bus is to bring me from A to B, and an old barrel does just that. Did I ever ask for those LCD screens, navigation intercom, stop-buttons and fancy cushions in the Dutch buses? No. But I’m paying for it.

It’s what I regard as overservicing.


Another example comes from a electronic retail store I visited. Last month, I just wanted to buy a DvD. They’re alfabetically ordered, so I need no help, but this guy comes up at me and asks if I can find it. ‘Yes’, I say – but he goes on about BluRay, whether I have a BluRay player. ‘Yes, a PS3, but I’m not paying an extra ten bucks per movie for the extra quality’, I answer. To any sane person it should be clear by now that I do not want a BluRay disc nor player, but the salesperson goes on about how much better a real BluRay player is compared to a PS3 – and that I couldn’t fully experience the quality of image and sound of BluRay on that. As it turns out, they have a BluRay player on sale right now. By then, I put the DvD I wanted to buy back in the shelve and went to another store.


A similar anti-service happens in clothing shops. I stopped being honest with the salespeople. ‘Can I help you?’, they ask – but instead of saying ‘I’m looking for a pair of jeans’, I reply ‘just looking around’. As soon as those people actually start servicing (letting me search for a pair of jeans in tranquillity), then I start being honest.


These are all examples of too much service. What people want is somebody who can actually help them, and if not, be left alone. Part of the success of supermarkets (compared to small shops), is the anonymity in which you can shop. When I enter the small grocery shop around the corner of my street, I can just feel the owners eyes following me as I collect my broccoli and cauliflower, whereas in the supermarket, I can just walk the most silly path from the broccoli to toothpaste to ketchup to cauliflower, and nobody will notice. Unintentionally, the supermarket is giving me quite a good service.


Bad service is easier to recognize, e.g: You’re being treated like a criminal at the airport security, or you don’t get batteries with your new gadget purchase, or waiting for over half an hour in a restaurant, or waiting all day at home cause the online-shop can’t say what time the purchased item will be delivered at your door. These are all terrible services – but the thing about over-servicing is; it can be just as terrible.