Pay attention to customer service

Do you pay enough attention in your business to the quality of the service you provide? In this article Women in Business Regional Network founder Carolyn Jeffrey shares her personal experiences and advice on improving customer service.

Organising a large number of functions at different venues and far flung locations means I’ve experienced the highs and lows of service provision, particularly from venues.  The experience made me think it might provide some learning for us all, particularly as we are often so close to our own businesses that we may not recognise problems with our service.

As most of you know I juggle several businesses and a long list of activities associated with the Women in Business Regional Network, so it’s important that I can feel confident that if I’ve asked for something to be done, or I’ve been promised something, that it is delivered.  I don’t want to have to be worrying that someone else hasn’t done what they were supposed to do.

Without divulging the actual venues that have provided good or bad service here’s some examples:

Email etiquette:

Email sent to confirm order.  Read receipt clicked by venue (so I know it has been read).  Only when I call to add a couple of extra people on the day of the event do I find out the email hasn’t been actioned.  This same venue had a problem the month before as the email had simply been deleted without action at all.

Solution: Ensure that you and your staff have a policy of always answering emails.  It’s common courtesy to take a moment to acknowledge the writer and it’s often the check to make sure the contents are actioned.  All of your staff should be made aware of the policy so that it doesn’t matter who’s working, the same procedures are followed.

Finding a solution:

We all know that sometimes things just don’t go to plan.  Hospitality is one industry where this often seems to be more frequent than in other industries.  The irritation for me, as a customer, is when staff simply say the words, “That can’t be done.”  These words are unhelpful in placating an angry customer and are more like a red rag to a bull.  Having been made aware the food order hadn’t been placed in time by the venue and so it “couldn’t be done” I was not only much calmed, but also very impressed when one of the kitchen team said, “I’ll go over to the supermarket myself if I have to to make it happen.”  She also thought outside the square to look at suitable alternatives.

Solution: Ask yourself if you or your staff seek to find solutions or whether you are a “that can’t be done” organisation.  When dealing with a problem when things haven’t gone to plan both you and your staff should first put yourself in the shoes of the customer.  A sorry goes a long way too.  Even if staff don’t have a solution straight away, encourage them to not say this, but to take a moment to think or offer to get back to the customer if that’s possible.  In my experience (on both sides of the customer service desk) often some of the worst situations can be turned into real positives if they’re handled well.

Online reviews:

In my experience how a business handles online reviews (both good and bad) is also often an indicator of the type of customer service culture they have.  Most people accept that sometimes things can go bad or that one person’s bad experience is another’s OK experience.  Leaving bad reviews unanswered or, worse, reacting badly to them can impact your business adversely.  As well, not taking the time to also thank those who have given a good review, can also leave a bad taste in a customer’s mouth.

Solution: Regardless of whether the review is positive or negative, make sure your business has a policy to provide an answer to every one of them.  Your business should have a general policy on what should and shouldn’t be said and, particularly, how bad reviews should be responded to.  The best advice for a bad review is to acknowledge the person’s concern, research what you can about their concern or their experience, and then try to encourage the conversation offline.  Always remember common courtesy and the word “sorry” is only five characters and doesn’t take much energy to type it, but can score a wealth of points with a disgruntled customer.

Is your service consistent?

Consistency is a key when it comes to attracting repeat business, particularly in a service industry.  When you go for a meal you want to know that if you order a meal today, you will get the same meal if you order it again in two days or two weeks’ time.  It is certainly the case when organising regular functions as you want consistency of service delivery and inclusions.  Essentially, a regular customer doesn’t want to be surprised, unless it’s a bonus or a nice additional surprise.

Solution: No matter whether your business is in hospitality or another industry, the key to consistency is ensuring everyone knows exactly how a job is to be done and what’s included.  The best way to ensure this is to take the time to prepare procedures outlining your practices and ensure staff as well as the owners are all well versed in what they are.  In some examples you can even ensure these practices or procedures are included in information given to your customers when making a booking or a purchase.  It might come as a surprise to many to know that big corporations like McDonalds have been successful because even the humble Quarter Pounder is surrounded by detailed procedures that staff involved in its preparation are well versed on.  McDonald’s stores and staff are regularly monitored to ensure these procedures are followed.

Even if you don’t have staff in your business customer service is key.  Take it from someone who works alone, having procedures, checklists and policies may seem like overkill and a waste of time, but they can often help reduce stress and assist with the decision-making process.  Not only do you know what you’re expected to deliver to a client or customer, but the client or customer is also well aware of the consistent service they will receive.