My June column for the Kitsap Business Journal….
Last month, I found myself sitting at an Applebee’s in Hurricane, West Virginia. I had made the trek with my family to this central West Virginia town to visit my 85-year old aunt. It was a 3½-hour trip from where our daughters live, but you never know how many more chances you get to visit aging relatives, so we took it. My cousin and his wife joined us and suggested we eat there.
When we got around to ordering, my wife queried the waitress on something quite normal for a restaurant. The response was bizarre. Barb asked, “What’s your soup of the day?” The response (after about a 2-second pause) was, “I don’t know.” And that was it. No apology. No attempt to find out what the mystery soup was. Just a simple statement of ignorance that spoke volumes about her work ethic and her employer’s training system. Barb ordered the chicken.
Earlier in the week, we had traveled to Cleveland to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. For dinner, we chose a restaurant that came recommended by several friends from the area. The restaurant is called Lola (owned by celebrity chef Michael Symon) and is in a trendy area in downtown. When checking in, we were told it would be about 20 minutes, so we went into the bar area for a cocktail. There wasn’t enough seating for all of us, so Barb and I were going to stand and let the girls sit. Within about 45 seconds, the hostess showed up with a bar stool for Barb to use. It was a small and subtle gesture, yet one that carries long-term impact leading to loyalty and testimonials.
While we may look at the first story with disbelief and amusement, we may need some level of introspection before we chortle too much. While the waitress at Applebee’s clearly missed the boat on customer service and creating a positive experience, how often do we in business do the same thing without even knowing it because it’s not as obvious? Allow me to offer some examples:
• Do you promptly return email correspondence? My experience indicates we always do when the other person is a priority. How about when they aren’t, or when it’s uncomfortable or embarrassing? Does the onrushing flow of messages cascading into your inbox thankfully swallow up that email?
• On the same note, how about those voicemails? What does the phrase, “I will call you back as soon as possible” really mean to you? I actually know business people that don’t use voicemail at all. What message is that sending customers?
• Is the receptionist at your office or front desk friendly and inviting? Always? Or are you like a growing number of businesses that simply put a bell out on the front counter and ask you to ring it when you get there? What kind of environment are you welcoming your clientele into when they show up at your door?
• Do you make callers to your business go through seven steps required by some horrid electronic answering system? Are they hammering away at numbers and “pound” signs trying in desperation to reach a live human being, only to be disconnected at the end?
• Do you make anything confusing to your clients and customers? How do you know? Do you provide them with easy access to you to ask questions and gain clarification? Do you ever ask them to evaluate your services and products?
The reality is that customer service is as obvious as a ham sandwich (with or without the soup of the day). The problem is that technology, complacency, and plain laziness have too often become obstacles. When we are the customer, it’s discernible. When we are knee-deep into it, we disregard it like the waitress and the soup.
Here is my simple 3-step program to assuring you avoid this trap.
1. Communicate as if it’s the most important thing you do, because it is. This means return calls and emails quickly. Create a standard for your company and yourself. Be accessible within the business day. Use technology to help your clients communicate with you on what they like and don’t like. Constantly search for better and more creative ways to communicate.
2. Surround yourself with a customer service team that is pleasant and positive. These people are the face of your business and are constantly being asked what your “soup of the day” is. While they might actually know, make sure they are responding in a way that brings a good experience (see our hostess at Lola), rather than a negative one. While this seems like a given, you and I both know it’s easier said than done. That’s why these people are in so much demand.
3. Be the leader. There are too many times that owners and executives delegate away management and customer service and lose track of them. If you’re the boss, it’s your job as a leader to be vigilant on this issue; to train your people; to inspire and motivate them; to confront and deal with adversity; and to assure the positive experiences of your clients and customers.
Bottom line — We can all work to improve our service and the value we provide. Keep it a high priority by always remembering to offer your clients that comfortable bar stool. That way, they will keep coming back for more soup!
Dan Weedin is a strategist, speaker, author and executive coach. He helps business leaders and executives to become stronger leaders, grow their businesses, and enrich their lives. He was inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant™ Hall of Fame in 2012. You can reach Dan at 360-697-1058; e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.DanWeedin.com.