What makes really great customer service?

 Using my recent experience, at the Frankie & Benny’s restaurant in Banbury, as an example of three issues where customer service can go wrong, I want to talk about how to get it right. As ever, once you’ve read my thoughts I would really welcome your golden nuggets on the subject.

 Customer service is becoming vital to all businesses today, but trying to instil it in your staff through training and procedures is not always enough. Let’s take last Sunday evening as an example. F&B in Banbury was quiet, half a dozen tables at most, when 3 of us called in on our way back to Bournemouth from Durham.

 Friendly reception, shown quickly to a table, given menus and asked about drinks – so far so good. I ordered “beer battered cod and chips”, imagining freshly battered succulent fish. When it arrived, quickly and piping hot, I was immediately disappointed. What looked like 2 pieces of oven-fish, of the sort we might keep in the freezer at home for a quick meal, sat on my plate.

 The waitress came over just as I had tried the first mouthful to ask if everything was okay. So far, so well trained. When I said that I was expecting freshly battered cod, not this, she agreed that it was like oven-fish and apologised that I had “not understood how we serve it here”. She then asked if the other 2 meals were okay and went away happy. Issue number one.

 As I was finishing, a manager came over, having heard that I had complained, and explained that they get the fish pre-prepared and frozen. She did not know what I had expected as she was “not familiar with the wording on the menu”. Issue number two.

 She said they would discount my main course by 50% and offered to take some more off the bill if that wasn’t enough. Issue number three.

 So what is at the heart of these three issues and how should we deal with them effectively?

 Clearly the staff have been trained to ask if everything is okay soon after serving – great, that is how it should be. But if you want to deliver “great service” as this chain claims, you need to develop a culture and attitude, not teach by rote. Strange as it may sound, this is not intended as a moan about one chain – I am sure they will be as sorry that they got it wrong as I am. It just serves as a lesson to all of us who provide a service that we must get it right every time. So here are the issues raised and how they should be dealt with…

 Issue one is about immediate response to a problem, and the right thing to do is either to make the problem go away or to go back to square one and start again. Never should you try to make the customer think there is no problem. Allow your staff the discretion to offer a replacement immediately, many places do, and trust me – it will not cost you a fortune but could enhance your reputation.

 Issue two is about timing and detail. If a manager is to get involved at any stage, it must be in due time and they must have all the information to hand. Communication in a service environment is paramount, so work on it and make it happen. In Frankie and Benny’s case, the manager came too late and didn’t have the facts (a restaurant manager not knowing their own menu is completely unacceptable).

 Issue three is about confidence. Staff should be confident in making a decision and have the authority to see it through. Compensating a customer should not be a negotiation. I was offered a discount and the manager made it quite clear that she would increase the offer if I wished. As it happens I did not ask for an increase in the discount, I had eaten and felt obliged to pay a reasonable amount for my food. But this is poor customer service and really should not happen.

 I have discussed the issues above with a member of staff at another well-known chain, who assures me that a) they instantly offer to change the meal and the new order jumps any queue in the kitchen, b) any of their managers and waiting staff can recite the menu in full – it is extensive but they must learn it, and c) they don’t negotiate discounts, they wipe things from the bill. So it can be done well.

 If you deliver customer service and you want it to be the best, follow my simple advice: 

  1. You are only as good as your customer thinks you are
  2. Dissatisfied customers tell more people about you than satisfied ones do
  3. Always deal with a problem swiftly and generously
  4. Train your staff so they know your product very well
  5. Train your staff to use mirror language and open questions
  6. Always ask the customer how they want you to put a problem right
  7. Smile and be friendly – even at the end of a long and tiring shift
  8. Your customer does you a favour by buying – it’s their money and choice
  9. You have to employ the right people, you can’t train attitude
  10. “Good enough” is just not good enough

If you want to talk to me about how you can make your customer service truly exceptional, call me on 01202 427464 or email me on david@winningbusiness.co.uk

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