An Open Letter to My Next Waiter/Waitress, or,
Good Customer Service is about Anticipating your Customers’ Needs
With 50 years of experience providing service to customers in the business consulting field and decorated apparel industry, I thought a blog on the subject of customer service would be a good idea. The initial step to writing this blog would be to define, just what is Good Customer Service anyway?
In my mind, I differentiate between “Can you match color number X1234 to Madeira Polyneon,”… “Are there any specials,”… “What’s the difference between polyester and rayon,”…“What size needle should I use,”… “I just bought a machine, what do I do now?” etc. These, to me, are examples of marketing Customer Service situations.
“What is the tracking number,”… “I ordered white rayon and got black,” … “One of my cones arrived broken,” etc. to me are problem-solving Customer Service situations. If they can’t be avoided, they need to be handled. The former circumstances are critical to growing your customer business, while the latter situations are critical to keeping those customers. Both situations require that answers be delivered in a timely, accurate, timely, friendly, timely, professional and timely manner.
Here’s what I mean. I don’t travel as much as I used to, but I still eat in restaurants around 5 or 6 times a week. (When I was your age I ate 15 or more meals in restaurants each week). I don’t like to wait to be seated while the host is watching one of the TV screens. I don’t care what my server’s name is. He or she is a 17 year old high school student who won’t be there the next time I drop in, nor do I care what her 17 year old taste buds find appealing on the menu.
I do want my server to quickly scan the table top to ensure that everything is there that needs to be and that all items are unsoiled. I am interested in what specials they may have but my server ought to know how they are prepared and what they cost without going to check. I do mind when they have to return to the kitchen to find out what green vegetables they have.
Stick a bottle of ketchup in your apron! Anticipate my need! I, for one, put ketchup on everything except corn flakes and I hate to have to wait (while my food gets cold) for the ketchup while my server stops to take an order from that table for six (I know, the ketchup thing is crazy, but my father swore he once saw a guy putting mustard on a banana). I want my food while it’s still hot; if the plate is as hot as my food, it’s probably been sitting under the heat lamp.
I appreciate being asked to cut into my meat or fish to, “Ensure it’s prepared the way I want it.” Don’t ask me if I want more water, just fill the glass! But DO ask if I want more coffee because what’s left in the cup may be at the exact temperature I like it. Don’t hover, but please keep an eye on me in case a need arises. Before you set down the check, make sure it’s the right one and don’t get lost.
I’m going to pay my check quickly and then leave. If the service is good, you get a 20 to 25% tip and a positive comment to the manager on the way out. If the service has been bad, you get a 20% tip (I don’t want to be responsible for you not getting a needed textbook) and a negative comment to the manager on the way out. And I’ll probably think twice before going back, at least in the short term. (I may sound like a Grumpy Old Man, but like I said, I eat out a lot).
So let’s relate my example to your business: Your customer is not calling or stopping by to “shop;” they have specific needs to complete a project, so just attend to their needs quickly and accurately and let them get back to work. If time and opportunity allow, then highlight the specials and do some cross-selling.
Research shows that customers’ impulse to punish bad service plays out dramatically in both phone-based and internet interactions, which are most companies’ largest customer service channels. In those situations, customer loyalty has a lot more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic promise, to deliver quality products, quickly and accurately, rather than how impressive the service experience might be to fix a problem.
There is an observation called The Bad-Service Ripple Effect, which indicates that service failures not only drive existing customers to defect—they also can repel prospective ones. Research shows:
- 23% of customers who had a positive service interaction told 10 or more people about it, while
- 48% of customers who had negative experiences told 10 or more others.
So, you need to define for yourself what constitutes Good Customer Service for you and your customers. It might be answering the phone on the first ring, a super-duper website, very knowledgeable order entry people, etc. You should periodically survey your customers to ask them what the key items might be and how you measure up.
In the end; get it right the first time! Know your customers’ needs! And the results will be:
- Return business – the next time your customer is in need of a solution that matches your products and services, your company will be the one that they call.
- More business – more than just customer retention, deeper penetration within your existing customers’ organizations is a powerful motivator to provide excellent customer service
- New business – the reputation of your customer service, combined with excellent products and/or services, creates new customer opportunities.
Thank you to Harvard Business Review for inspiring these thoughts.