Who among us hasn’t had an unpleasant dining experience thanks to a rude waiter, lousy food and bad service? From the telephone to the table, customer service is defined by anticipating the demands of customers, and these days, customers are demanding more; specifically in the way of service, and service starts as soon as the guest walks through the door. The old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” still holds true today, especially in the hospitality industry, and equally important is the guest’s lasting impression.
“Customer service is all about the guest and anticipating and filling their needs”, said Shelly Dodson, Assistant General Manager of Mon Ami Gabi; a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant. “Managers must convey to their staff that we are here to create a positive experience for our guest. When people dine out, it’s an event. They want a fun, exciting and pleasant experience and it’s our job to make sure that happens”.
Providing exemplary service is not complicated but it is a priority and every opportunity should be taken to ensure that the guest has been satisfied if the business expects to survive in a challenging, complex and competitive food service industry. It is the responsibility of both management and staff to understand the difference between good service and exceptional service. Most everyone can offer good service, but only the best can deliver exceptional service. Exceptional service is anticipating and exceeding the expectations of the guest. Creating a unique and exceptional level of unparalleled customer service will provide an advantage over the competition. Competition is good, as long as the business can stay one step ahead of their competitors.
“If we don’t take care of our customers, our competition will,” said Annie Kang-Drachen, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Department of Food & Beverage Management, UNLV William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. “There is good and bad customer service and bad customer service stems from lack of care, ignorance and inaptitude which ultimately will result in loss of business and profits. I believe that exceptional customer service starts from the top; key personnel leading through example and instilling pride in each employee who comes in contact with customers. Exceptional customer service is what we all strive for because that is the foundation of good business, and our customers expect it which is evident by the fact that you don’t often hear comments about positive customer service experiences but you most definitely hear about the bad ones”.
While some companies concentrate on increasing sales by adding new menu items, redecorating the venue, outfitting the staff in trendy uniforms and offering daily specials often times, the little things that keep customers returning, gets ignored. Attention to detail is crucial. Customer service is the basis of a successful business and the wait staff is the lifeblood of that business. If service is sacrificed for the sale; that is a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t matter how delicious the food is or how inviting the atmosphere, if the service suffers, so will the business.
“People spend money when and where they feel good”, said Walt Disney and this holds true for any market segment.
“The customer service we provide is unsurpassed”, said Reina Herschdofer, Executive Director of Sales and Pavilion Operations at Rio and Harrah’s Las Vegas. “We get to know the customer and truly learn what is most important to them. Each and every customer has different needs and different priorities. If you know what the key to their success is, you can exceed their expectations”.
“You’re never fully dressed without a smile!”
Since the service staff is an integral part of the operation, they should dress for success and that begins with a smile. Service with a smile is one of the most important tools of the trade. Never underestimate the power of a smile. There is nothing more welcoming or contagious; it costs nothing and takes little effort. It doesn’t matter the nationality or the language of the guest, everyone understands a smile. “I never tired of saying a smile is worth a thousand words”, said Dodson.
As part of their training, it is imperative that the service staff be knowledgeable about the menu, not only in terms of the offerings but more importantly, in preparation, especially in today’s health-conscious society. Furthermore, building a rapport with the guest, making eye contact, adding a personal touch by having the servers introduce themselves and displaying the proper body language might seem inconsequential, but they are important qualities of service and contribute to a positive dining experience. The staff should treat their customers in the same way they would want their families or themselves to be treated. They are both the voice and the face of the business. Their attitude and appearance is a reflection of that restaurant’s culture and its success and growth depends on a well-trained, enthusiastic and accommodating staff with a strong work ethic; committed to taking care of the customer with decorum and good product knowledge. Strong leadership also plays a key role. Staff and management working toward a common goal will result in a positive dining experience for the guests and those guests will reward the staff with a higher gratuity and the restaurant will reap the benefits. It’s a win-win situation.
Employee empowerment is a highly effective ingredient in customer service training.
“The customer is always right” is a popular slogan of the service industry; even if the customer is wrong. With the diversity of diners, their high expectations and ever-changing demands, it is impossible to please everyone, especially in today’s fast-paced world where immediate-gratification is expected. We in the business have all experienced those cranky customers who seem to enjoy complaining about every aspect of their meal. Managers should encourage their employees to be proactive in treating a customer issue or complaint without the need for their constant approval. Before the problem becomes compounded, employees must act with a conviction that they are genuinely committed to working on an immediate resolution. Employee empowerment is a highly effective ingredient in customer service training, not only for the guest, but the staff will feel good knowing that the management has faith and trust in their decision-making abilities. If owners and managers recognize and reward their staff for good service, the staff will take good care of their customers. This level of service will ultimately generate repeat business and that guest’s satisfaction will guarantee future customers.
“It costs five times as much to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing one,” notes Norman Scarborough, assistant professor of economics and business administration at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC”.
While it is always profitable to gain new customers, even more lucrative is the repeat customer. Most often, it is easier to please a repeat customer because you have already met their expectations by establishing a level of loyalty and trust and delivering consistency in product and service. “A repeat customer is a sense of accomplishment,” said Sandy Acenas, Assistant General Manager of the Harley-Davidson Café. “They are a testament to a job well done and your best form of publicity”. In this customer-driven industry, word-of-mouth recommendations from a satisfied customer are the least expensive yet the most effective type of advertising. A repeat customer appreciates being recognized; it makes them feel important and addressing them by their name, knowing what they want to eat and drink before they order and anticipating their questions before they ask will enhance the guest’s dining experience and establish customer loyalty.
“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends”. Walt Disney
I asked Cory Harwell, Director of Restaurants at New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas, to define his idea of customer service. “My idea of customer service? Well, I suppose I could be predictable and say it is exceeding guest expectations or being proactive or any of those very normal responses. My actual answer is simple though. This is our house. The people that work here are our family. The people that visit us are our friends. We will show them a great time and they will always remember us. My belief is exceptional customer service is treating people the way you would if they were coming over to your house. We act a certain way when we have guests at our homes. We are clean; everything is in their proper place. We greet them at the door. We hang up their coats and offer them a drink. We are always conscious of them having a good time. When we are able to translate this to our professional environments, we excel. It may sound simple, because it actually is. It comes naturally. We do it all the time at home. It is at work where we complicate things.”
A customer is an investment. The more that investment is nurtured and tended to, the higher the return on that investment. Here’s a big “tip,” customer’s need to know that you appreciate them and that they add value to your business. If you listen to them, you will learn from them. There is no room for complacency in this people-pleasing industry. Complacency is the difference between success and failure. Customers are a restaurant’s “bread and butter” and exceptional customer service is the key to any successful business.