Customer Service Lessons from the Pump

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Prior to moving to Oregon a little more than a year ago, I had a solid 21 years of pumping my own gas under my belt. On a side note, using some serious math skills you can probably figure out my age. While I never had a problem pumping my own gas, aside from losing a gas cap or two, it’s been interesting observing the process of having someone else pump my gas for me.

The typical process looks something like this:

  1. Greet the attendant
  2. Hand them credit card
  3. Say “Regular fill up, please”
  4. They pump gas
  5. They bring card back and say, “Here’s your card back”
  6. I respond with, “Thank you so much”
  7. Gas finishes pumping
  8. They tighten gas cap and hand me receipt and say, “Here you go”
  9. I say “Thank you. Have a great day”
  10. They say, “You too”

On average I probably stop for gas 1.5 times per week. If I’ve lived in Oregon for approximately 60 weeks, I’ve been through this process about 90 times. The above process has been my experience 96.7% of the time. Now, allow me to tell you about the other 3.3% (3 times) that were different from all of the rest — and I’ll warn you that the differences are very subtle.

Washing the Windshield

Out of the 90 times someone has pumped my gas, I’ve tipped an attendant 2 times (2.2%) and it’s because they washed my windshield. In both cases, the gas station wasn’t terribly busy and so they asked, “Do you mind if I wash your windshield?” I then would awkwardly ask if they accepted tips after they finished. Washing my windshield was a gesture that didn’t take a lot of extra time but definitely left an imprint in my mind.

Calling me by Name

Just recently, when the attendant brought my credit card back to me she said, “Here’s your card back, Jeremy.” That’s the only time someone has said my name, but most of them can easily find it on the credit card I handed them. I was pleased and a little surprised by her effort to personalize the experience.

Amazing Customer Service

Customer service and experience expert, Shep Hyken defines amazing customer service as being consistently above average. When you apply this concept to my experiences with gas attendants, I’m getting an average experience 96.7% of the time. Only 3.3% of my experiences have been above average. I’d be hardpressed to recall a genuinely bad experience in the bunch.

Over the past several years, the conversation on customer service has often centered around delighting or WOWing customers. I’m talking about those encounters that go viral for good reasons (Here are some tear jerkers from HelpScout). In reality, home runs in customer service are few and far between because they depend on a number of factors, many of which are out of the control of the agent. Expecting this on every customer interaction isn’t a sustainable approach and will lead to disappointment and burnout.

The reality is that it doesn’t take a lot to be above average. If I’ve learned anything from my experiences having my gas pumped for me, I’ve learned the difference between average and above average service— and it’s very subtle. It doesn’t take a whole lot of extra effort to offer to clean someone’s windshield and even less to call someone by name when you hand their credit card back to them.

Regardless of the kind of customer service you’re involved in, take some time to observe what the average experience looks like. Then set your aim on consistently adding a little bit more to be above average. While you won’t always hit home runs with this approach, you will most certainly stand out in the minds of your customers.


Jeremy Watkin
Head of Quality 

Jeremy Watkin is the Head of Quality at FCR. He has more than 15 years of experience as a customer service professional.  He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog.  Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership.  Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

5 Comments. Leave new

Jeff Toister
10/20/2016 2:36 pm

The inability to pump your own gas is one of the things I like least about Oregon, which I generally think is a great place. Your “typical” experience matches the same experience I had every time I’ve gotten gas there. Great to hear you’ve had a few amazing moments!

Jeremy Watkin
10/21/2016 7:52 am

Thanks Jeff. It’s definitely a minor inconvenience at places like Costco where you have one attendant in charge of 6 pumps and it’s almost always busy.

10/23/2016 5:36 am

Great lesson, Jeremy! And, thanks for the shout-out. By the way, I worked in gas stations from when I was 14 through college – and even a little after college. So this article really hit home for me. Thanks!

Jeremy Watkin
10/23/2016 6:22 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Shep! Your definition of amazing customer service is great. It’s great to hear your perspective as someone who did this kind of work.

Customer Service Lessons from the Pump - Customer Service Life
10/31/2016 8:26 pm

[…] post was originally published on the FCR blog on October 20, 2016. Click here for the […]


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