Call a company's customer service department about a problem or issue, and invariably the service rep ends the call with the all-too-familiar question, "Have I delivered excellent customer service?"

What exactly is the point of such a question? Understandably, the companies want to know how their customers perceive their brand's willingness to address and resolve problems. They want to foster customer satisfaction and loyalty, and they want to leave customers with the perception that the company cares about them.

But does the question elicit the kind of feedback the company needs to accurately assess its operations? Are there other metrics that might be more informative and helpful?

Asking a nebulous question about "excellent customer service" leads to subjective perceptions of what qualities constitute an "excellent" rating.

Frequently, companies have different expectations for service delivery than their customers do.

Hospital administrators, for example, might look at revenue, how well they've complied with government regulations, how many medical errors were made, how many disciplinary actions were taken, how many patient complaints and lawsuits were filed. Patients, on the other hand, might simply consider how promptly the nurses answered the call light, how gentle the nurses were in physical interactions, how clearly medical staff communicated with them.

Two wildly different sets of criteria, and neither is the complete picture.

I was recently engaged in a six-month battle with a large international telecommunications company. First, they accidentally canceled my phone service with a loud "oops" while I was talking with them. They then charged me a reconnect fee despite admitting it was their mistake in disconnecting the phone in the first place. And nobody in any department seemed to know how to reactivate voicemail despite an investment of six months, 24 hours of logged phone calls to customer service, and 18 different people from assorted departments and various administrative levels.

Each painful phone call to their customer service department ended with the dutiful and rote, "Have I delivered excellent customer service?"

It didn't matter to me that they were polite or that they constantly recited their scripted, "Yes, ma'am," or "Yes, I understand your frustration; I am a consumer, too." All that mattered to me was that someone — anyone — would take ownership of the problem and fix it. It never happened.

Did their customer service logs show they delivered excellent customer service despite the irony of losing a 30-year customer?

Instead of pointless questions, why not ask a customer what it would take to make them satisfied? And if they say, "fix my problem" or "partial refund" or whatever, empower your employees to resolve the issue to deliver unquestionably excellent customer service. It's really that simple.