There's no mystery to great customer service. It can be explained in eight seconds, says Philip Hesketh

A very nice lady called me the other morning to say that I had been highly recommended to her company as a motivational speaker and her boss wanted to book me. I felt a sort of warm glow deep inside that couldn't be attributed to the Ready Brek. Sure, I love hearing from my mother, too, but this is really the sort of woman you hope will be on the other end of the line at 9.30am. She gave me the date of their forthcoming conference and asked if I was free.

I told her that I'm never free but always very reasonable. She chuckled a little and then asked if I could talk about improving customer service. "Naturally," I replied, since I have several angles already prepared on the subject, each with their own hilarious anecdotes and witty asides that appear entirely unscripted.

There was a bit of a silence. "Actually, we've already chosen the title of the talk and gone to print with it. Is that a problem?" "Only if it's 'Great customer service in the Danish fishing industry of the 1970s'," I replied. "That could stump even me."

Fortunately, it wasn't. The title they had chosen was 'The Secrets of Great Customer Service'. I agreed to do the talk on the clear understanding that there aren't actually any secrets. This confused her a little but she batted on. "How long will that take then?" she enquired. "About eight seconds," I replied. She was clearly taken aback by the brevity of what I had planned, but, credit where credit's due, she asked me the cost.

When I told her my fee she suggested that it seemed like a lot of money for just eight seconds' work. I explained that she wasn't paying for the eight seconds but rather the 35 years it's taken me to study customer service to be able to distil it down to eight seconds. I then added, helpfully: "But I can also do it an hour."

She liked this idea better and enquired as to the price. I told her I only had one fee - the same for eight seconds, one hour or, indeed, a whole day. If you want me to sing and play guitar, that's a bit extra. She plumped for the non-musical hour, but, curiosity having got the better of her, she asked what the eight-second version consisted of.

Feeling somewhat benevolent I agreed to do it there and then over the phone. And here it is for you. The 'secrets of customer service' in five key points, 24 words and eight seconds. If you're in business and abide by these words the improvement in your service will be palpable. Guaranteed.

Be nice. Ask more questions of your customers. Care about their needs. Do what you say you're going to do. Exceed expectations. Every day.

Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on the pscyhology of persuasion and the author of Life's a Game so Fix the Odds.