Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

“Fine” is the F-Bomb of Customer Service

Not long ago I was interviewing Kevin Berk, founder and CEO of ServiceGuru, on Amazing Business Radio. We were talking about the word fine. He commented that it is a four letter that begins with the letter F that you never want to hear from your customer. I then joked that fine is the “F-Bomb” of customer service.

Ask someone how their experience with your company is. If they say, “Fine,” and you dig a little deeper, you may find out things really aren’t so fine.

I Googled the word fine and found that the word is an adjective that means “high quality.” That may be true if you’re talking about a “fine-looking haircut.” However, as just mentioned, that may not always be the case, especially when it comes to business and customer service.

“How’s the food?” “Fine.”

“How’s the service?” “Fine.”

“How’s your experience? “Fine.”

If you owned a restaurant and asked your customer those questions, and their answer was, “Fine,” how would you feel? You would know that there was a problem! You would need to ask a deeper question to understand how the customer really felt.

So, does fine really mean fine? NO!

Consider that the word fine is really an acronym that stands for:

  • F: Faking a smile
  • I: Insincere response
  • N: Never coming back
  • E: Emotionless

This all comes together in a bold statement I found while doing Internet research for this article. I found the following phrase on images, posters and funny tee shirts. I laughed out loud …

Fine is not fine! The scale goes Great, Good, Okay, Not Okay, I Hate You, Fine!

So, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but it makes the point. Fine does not always mean fine! In customer service, fine means okay at best – average, trite, mundane and unimpressive. I think you get the idea. If you hear a customer say it is fine, it is time to move into service and relationship recovery mode.

I compare this to the concept of a “satisfied customer.” This is the customer that doesn’t complain, but doesn’t praise you either. This is the customer that will seldom, if ever, refer business to you. This is the customer that may not come back.

But, we thought they were happy. Why? Because they didn’t complain. If they had, we could have made things right. But, that doesn’t mean the experience was great. Maybe things weren’t all that bad. Maybe there was nothing at all to complain about. Maybe things weren’t wrong, but they weren’t really right, either. Maybe they were just … fine.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVII, Shep Hyken)

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  1. Shep, if your group falls into this “fine” category, how would you recommend the company, non-profit, etc. proceed in setting things right?
    “Fine” does seem rather ominous and really could sound a death knell for a company – no one wants that to happen!

  2. It’s kind of like when you ask your wife how she is doing and she tells you she is fine. Your choice then is to do major relationship repair or move to Montana. I’ve been enjoying your posts.

    • Hi Dwayne – Yes, I’m very familiar with what you are referring to!!! (And, I love to visit Montana – just don’t want to live there permanently!) Thanks for your comments. Appreciate you!

  3. I really like this concept!

    As customers, we probably all use it. I’ve sometimes made a point (as a customer) to say how I really feel. It often leads to a better interaction, but just as often employees are befuddled because they didn’t actually care about the answer.

    Occasionally, I’ll encounter a customer service professional who won’t accept fine and it can lead to good things. I was pretty sick a few weeks ago and had to travel. A flight attendant took one look at me as I boarded the plane and asked, “What’s wrong?” Just that little bit of empathy made me feel like I would be in good hands on that flight (I was).

    • So, when you say fine, you really mean it. And, wouldn’t it be nice if all flight attendants could make a connection like you described with all passengers.

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