If you're not in the business of customer service, you shouldn't be in business.
Unfortunately, customer service seems out of fashion. Here's an example. I'm sure you can relate.
Recently, I received a charge card in the mail. Before being able to use the card, I was required to call a toll-free number to activate the card. After pounding in the twelve digits or so on the card and providing the expiration date, I was then transferred to a customer service representative who proceeded to ask me the same questions.
Please tell me why I just wasted five minutes trying to find the digits on my phone if she was going to take the information down as well?
If that weren't bad enough, she then began a script that started with, "Are you interested in …" Me: "Please stop. I'm not interested in purchasing any protection services." Her: "I'm still required to ask you. Are you interested in …"
Me: "I told you, I'm not interested in the insurance, so why are you asking me?" Her: "I have to ask you this or I could lose my job."
This had me wondering if she was trying to protect me or was she trying to protect her job? I think we both know the answer to that question.
People or Process?
We are anxious to share tales of terrible customer service with anyone and everyone who will stand still long enough to listen. The blame is usually placed on the person we are interacting with, but is it really their fault?
If a hostess tries to seat you near the bathroom because she's been told to spread the customers out so a single waitperson isn't slammed, is it her fault you can practically have your meal served in the restroom, or is the process to blame?
I'd say it's the process. If there is a more suitable table open, you must empower this employee to make a decision that is in the best interest of your customer.
But what if you don't trust that your employees will know how to seat customers so they feel like valued guests? You change the situation by replacing them with people who have the ability to think on their feet. You should provide training and rewards for consistently doing the right thing.
Here is a simple solution to the problem described above: Train the hostess so she knows that tables near the restroom and kitchen should be the last seat filled. Even better, suggest that prior to walking the customer to an undesirable table, give them the option of waiting for a seat in a more favorable location.
Speaking of process and training, there is such a thing as too much. Last week, my husband took our 12-year-old son and his friends to a restaurant for a birthday celebration. Upon arrival, the line was out the door. But that didn't dismay my husband, since he was told the wait would be no more than 30 minutes.
Forty minutes later, and an even longer line, my husband overheard the hostess tell families the wait would be between 25 and 30 minutes. My husband gently suggested to the hostess that perhaps she could try to be more accurate (code word for ditching the company line) so that families with young children could properly assess if they could endure the wait.
My favorite restaurants (and the one's I return to most) don't necessarily have the best food in town, but they are honest with me when it comes to wait times. Now, I know that it's difficult to project exactly how long it will take to turn a table over, but I'd rather be called to my table 10 minutes earlier than anticipated, than to be kept waiting longer than promised.
Here's how one establishment manages to put processes into place that satisfy both the needs of the customer and the restaurant.
We recently had dinner on a busy Saturday evening at the Popponesset Inn on Cape Cod. As we finished our meal, the host came over and asked us if we wanted to play "Let's Make a Deal."
He then offered us the option of trading our beachside table for complimentary desserts in the bar. With two kids in tow, that was certainly an offer we couldn't pass up. But it wasn't so much the deal that caught my attention. It was the way the message was delivered. He did it with humor and grace. It was obvious to me that the host was trying to create a win-win situation for us and the guests who were waiting for a table. He was the perfect hire for this position and he had the disposition to prove it.
Training by Osmosis
How many times have you walked into a new job and knew exactly what you needed to know to be an asset to the firm? For most of us, that number is zero.
The servers at McDonald's get more training than the average employee. Yet, business owners are shocked when customers complain about an ill-equipped employee or it appears a new employee may not work out.
Many organizations hope training will happen by osmosis and are sadly disappointed when learning does not take place. A strategy to create a customer-focused workplace must include training from day one.
How might your service ratings and profitability dramatically increase if you invested the time to train and onboard every new employee?
I suspect two things would happen. First, the employees would immediately become productive and secondly, they would feel like they were working for a firm that valued their presence. My goodness. Why wouldn't you do this?
Every business today is in the business of customer service. Believe me, ticking me off when I'm already upset about a problem or even worse, when I'm too hot or too cold, is not going to do anything to strengthen our relationship. Find a better way and help customers become advocates for your company.
As the economy improves, businesses will be scrambling to reclaim their piece of the customer pie. Wouldn't it be easier to keep what you already have on your plate, rather than hunting for crumbs?
The time to bring customer service back is now, before your customers decide to cut you completely out of their diet.
For more than 25 years, Roberta Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting, has helped leaders of Fortune 500 companies and small- to medium-sized businesses create exceptional workplaces. A seasoned consultant, Matuson is considered a leading authority on leadership and the skills and strategies required to earn employee commitment and client loyalty. She is the author of "Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around," and is a prolific writer who has published more than 300 articles worldwide. For additional information, visit www.matusonconsulting.com.