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

Does networking work for you?

Does networking work for you?

The first big point for me, many years ago, was to recognise that networking works best when I use it to meet new people and build relationships with them. That it can raise the profile of my business or myself in the community. And that it works least well when I use it to try to sell to people. To me it’s a network, not a market.

I hate networks where all anyone is trying to do is sell to me. Surely they must realise that all that will do is make me avoid them. I never try to sell when I network, I look for people I could do business with and arrange to meet them to discuss how that might happen. Most of the time I try to find ways to help other people, and to introduce people to each other so they can thrive and make new contacts. I know that they will remember me if that happens.

If you always look for opportunities to give help and advice, I reckon the business will come to you eventually. I also find that the more I network properly, the more people I get to know and the more the business community sees me as a useful member; which is probably why I now regularly get asked to speak at networks.

My networking mantra is to help others by introducing them to people who will be useful to them and their business. So if I can help you with your business, feel free to ask.

I have written a guide to how to network, which is in my resources section on this web site. You are welcome to download it and use it to help you network more effectively if you wish. I hope you find some useful tips in it. And I would be delighted to hear your networking stories too, so please email me with the best and worst networking experience you have had and I will try to publish some of them – anonymously of course.

So what is your “most valuable asset”?

I hear people regularly refer to their people, customer database or intellectual property as their most valuable Asset. So in my blog at, I have put my view on these and now I would welcome your thoughts on the matter. Let’s start a debate.

Your most valuable asset.

 Listening to the news the other night, I heard someone refer to Intellectual Property as a company’s most valuable asset – I think he was an IP lawyer, but earlier that day I had heard an HR specialist at a lunch say “people are our most valuable asset”, and I am sure I once heard customer databases referred to as the most valuable asset of supermarket, so which is it?

 In my view there are two answers to this, the cynical one, and the considered one. First, as I am often unkindly referred to as a cynic, let’s take that view.

 The people who refer to their staff as their most valuable asset usually have just won an award as a great employer, or have been accredited with Investors in People, or are from the HR department. They are rarely the heads of public sector departments whose staff have just gone on strike. 

Those who refer to IP as their most valuable asset are usually in creative or inventive industries, where technology or design is what gives the company the edge. Or they are IP lawyers who want to generate business for their services. 

And when someone says that your customer database is your greatest asset, you can bet they are a marketing guru of some sort, whose world revolves around making money out of focus groups and telling you what the customer will buy next Christmas. 

To see these all for what they are, we need to not only look at where the comment is coming from, but also at what sort of business is being talked about. Certainly your greatest asset can vary, it is after all, almost by definition, what makes you stand apart from your competitors. So the trick is, rather than argue about what it is, see what you can do to maximise its value to you. A really good measure of a business’ success is ROI, or return on investment. So what are you investing in your “most valued asset”, and what sort of a return are you getting? 

You can quite easily put a value on intellectual property, or at least you can pay a specialist to do that for you, and you should be able to value the return you get on it. But what about the investment you made in the people who develop the IP for you in the first place? How do you value the cost of creating the culture and atmosphere conducive to the development of great commercial ideas? That is much more difficult to do but should not be underestimated. 

If you use loyalty cards in your business, you collect loads of useful information about your customers which allows you to create an edge over your competitors through focused marketing in posted or emailed information and special deals. Soon you may be able to send texts to your customers when in your shop, reminding them of what they have bought before, or what is currently on promotion. Yes this is a highly valuable asset, but without the people to implement it, to set up the systems and deliver the service, it is of little real value unless you sell it. 

So it appears we are back to people as our most valuable asset. That may be true, but not in the “say it because it sounds good” or “if I keep repeating it maybe the staff will think I mean it” sense. People are only your most valuable asset because the human mind makes them flexible and responsive in a way no computer or system ever can be. Yes you can get robots to perform more intricate tasks more consistently and more quickly, and yes, a person will eventually make a mistake. But no computer will ever buy your new product on a whim, or offer to drive you home when you are unwell. People, whether employee, customer or supplier, matter and we can’t do without them. So we should look after them, care for them, train and develop their skills, knowledge and behaviours (preferably with assistance from us at WinningBusiness). And only refer to your people as your most valuable asset when they believe you really mean it.