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Customer Service or the Lack There Of
Who among us has not had to deal with the trouble of a rude waiter, bad food and bad service? From phone to desk, customer service is defined by anticipating customer requirements, and these days, customers demand more; especially in the way of service, and the service starts as soon as the guest walks through the door. The old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” still holds true, especially in the hospitality industry, and making a lasting impression on the guest is just as important.
“Customer service is about the guest, anticipating and meeting their needs,” said Shelly Dodson, assistant general manager of Mon Ami Gabi; the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant. “Managers need to communicate to their staff that we are here to create a positive experience for our guests. When people dine out, it’s an event. They want fun, exciting and enjoyable experiences, and it’s our job to make sure that happens.”
Providing exemplary service is not difficult, but it is a priority and every effort must be made to ensure guest satisfaction if a business expects to survive in the complex, challenging and competitive catering industry. It is the responsibility of both management and staff to understand the difference between good and exceptional service. Almost everyone can offer good service, but only the best can provide exceptional service. Exceptional service anticipates and exceeds guest expectations. Creating a unique and exceptional level of unparalleled customer service will give you an edge over your competitors. Competition is good as long as a business can stay one step ahead of its competitors.
“If we don’t take care of our customers, our competition will,” said Annie Kang-Drachen, director of sales and marketing in the Department of Food and Beverage Production Management at the UNLV William F. Harrah College of Hospitality Administration. “There is good customer service and bad customer service, and bad customer service comes from a lack of focus, ignorance and ineptitude, which will ultimately result in lost business and lost profits. I believe that exceptional customer service starts at the top; key personnel lead by example and instill pride in every employee who comes into contact with customers. Exceptional customer service is something we all strive for because it is the foundation of a good business and our customers expect it, which is evident from the fact that you don’t often hear comments about positive customer service experiences, but you certainly hear about bad ones.” .
While some companies focus on increasing sales by adding new menu items, upgrading the premises, dressing staff in trendy uniforms and offering daily specials, the little things that keep customers coming back are overlooked. Attention to detail is critical. Customer service is the foundation of a successful business, and the waiter is the lifeblood of that business. When service is sacrificed to sales; this is a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t matter how delicious the food is or how inviting the atmosphere is, if the service suffers, the business will suffer.
“People spend money when and where it’s convenient for them,” said Walt Disney, and this is true for any market segment.
“The customer service we provide is second to none,” said Rayna Herschdoffer, executive director of sales and pavilion operations for the Rio and Harrah’s Las Vegas. “We get to know our customers and really learn what is most important to them. Every customer has different needs and different priorities. If you know what is the key to their success, you can exceed their expectations.”
“You’re never fully dressed without a smile!”
Since wait staff are an integral part of the operation, they need to dress for success, and that starts 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 requires little effort. It does not matter the nationality and language of the guest, everyone understands a smile. “I never get tired of saying that a smile is worth a thousand words,” Dodson said.
As part of training, it is essential that wait staff are knowledgeable about the menu, not only in terms of offerings, but more importantly in preparation, especially in today’s health conscious society. Moreover, building rapport with the guest, making eye contact, adding a personal touch by introducing servers and demonstrating appropriate body language may seem trivial, but these are important service qualities and contribute to a positive dining experience. Staff should treat their customers as they would want their family or themselves to be treated. They are the voice and face of the business. Their attitude and appearance is a reflection of the culture of this restaurant and its success and growth depends on a well-trained, enthusiastic and courteous staff with a strong work ethic; strives to take care of the customer with courtesy 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 guests, and those guests will reward the staff with higher tips, and the restaurant will reap the rewards. It’s a win-win situation.
Employee empowerment is a very effective component of customer service training.
“The customer is always right” is a popular slogan in the service industry; even if the customer is wrong. Due to 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 instant gratification is expected. All of us in business have encountered grumpy customers who seem to love to complain about every aspect of their meal. Managers should encourage their employees to be proactive in addressing customer concerns or complaints without needing their constant approval. Before a problem becomes difficult, employees must act with confidence that they are truly committed to working toward an immediate solution. Employee empowerment is a very effective component of customer service training, not only for guests, but the staff will feel good knowing that management believes in their decision-making abilities. When owners and managers recognize and reward their employees for good service, the staff will take good care of their customers. This level of service will ultimately lead to repeat business, and guest satisfaction is a guarantee of future customers.
“It costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one,” notes Norman Scarborough, associate professor of economics and business administration at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina.
While gaining new customers is always profitable, a repeat customer is even more profitable. It is often easier to please a repeat customer because you have already met their expectations by establishing a level of loyalty and trust and by providing consistency in products and services. “A repeat customer is a sense of accomplishment,” said Sandy Atsenas, assistant general manager of Harley-Davidson Café. “They are a testament to a job well done and your best form of advertising.” In this customer-centric industry, word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers are the least expensive but most effective form of advertising. A repeat customer appreciates being recognized; making them feel important and addressing them by name, knowing what they want to eat and drink before they order, and anticipating their questions before they ask will improve your guests’ dining experience and build customer loyalty .
“Do what you do so well that they’ll want to see it again and bring their friends.” Walt Disney
I asked Corey Harwell, director of restaurants at the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas, to weigh in on his idea of customer service. “My perception of customer service? Well, I guess I could be predictable and say it’s exceeding guest expectations, or engagement, or any of those very normal responses. However, my real answer is simple. This is our home. The people who work here are our family. The people who visit us are our friends. We will show them a great time and they will always remember us. I believe that exceptional customer service is about treating people the way you would treat them if they came to your house. We behave a certain way when we have guests at home. We are clean; everything is in its place. We meet them at the door. We hang up their coats and offer them a drink. We always make sure they have a good time. If we can transfer this to our professional environment, we succeed. It may seem simple, because it really is. It comes naturally. We do it all the time at home. At work, we do everything make it difficult”.
A customer is an investment. The more this investment is nurtured and cared for, the higher the return on that investment. Here’s a big tip: Customers need to know that you value 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 service is the key to a successful business.
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