SERVICE: The goal of customer service is to bring 'em back

Sept. 26, 2004

Most folks have reasonable expectations of customer service, yet it's a bit complicated to describe. It's a mix of feelings that consumers experience during their daily interactions with service providers. It includes a series of steps, somewhat ritualized, that contain a fundamental sequence and flow. Any time the ritual is interrupted or altered unexpectedly, it's unsettling and can be perceived as bad service. No matter how subtle or minor the change, when the level of service delivered differs from the customer's expectations, it can result in major wins or disastrous failures.

Good service is a combination of verbal and nonverbal communication that relays values connected with manners and social skill techniques. Historically, we learned those mores at home and then

Paul C. Paz

rehearsed them as we went to school, began dining out, entered the business world, etc.

In the past 75 years, however, these values and rituals have gone through radical changes that can be recognized as shifts in period etiquette — a.k.a. generation gaps.

For example, proper salutations have gone from "Sir" to "Dude" to just "Hey." Within each generation, different groups deem these terms acceptable to that period etiquette. However when the period etiquette crosses generations, trouble can arise.

For example, if an 18-year-old restaurant host greets a 75-year-old customer with a "Hey," the customer might deem that disrespectful. On the flipside, a 57-year-old waiter greeting a group of high-school students as "dudes" could be seen as ridiculous. In both instances, the customers make immediate judgments based on their own service paradigms. Plus, that snap judgment, rightly or wrongly, is applied to that business.

So what to do?

Training in the basics of customer service is essential, especially when considering period etiquette differences. Getting staff to smile while addressing customers may seem simple enough, for example, but without training and rehearsal, service delivery can come off as forced or robotic, and make both the customer and employee uncomfortable.

Ever seen the following? A staffer avoids smiling at or making eye contact with customers because she's not prepared to answer their questions.

Training staff to realize it's OK if they don't know everything is essential, but more important is training them to know where to get the right answer quickly. Sending them out before the guests with that confidence will be reflected in their body language, and customers will feel encouraged to ask questions and request assistance. The smile, especially, is an invitation to be of service and a display of an employee seeking out service opportunities, not merely reacting to problems.

Ask your staff sometime to define the purpose of customer service. I'll bet you'll hear replies like, "To make customers happy," "To create a positive atmosphere," or "To be hospitable." All are fine, and they serve as pieces of the overall puzzle, but they don't address the purpose of customer service, which my hospitality hero, Robert Farrell of Farrell's Ice-Cream Parlors, defines this way: "The only reason for customer service is to get them to come back!"

Amen brother!

In the meantime, Make It Fun... Make It Easy... Make Some Money!

Read other Paul Paz commentaries ...
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Topics: Service

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