Sunday 25 September 2016

Problem Solver: Why silent service is worth shouting about

Published 12/11/2015 | 02:30

Feargal Quinn
Feargal Quinn

Q: I run a busy petrol station in a fast-moving environment. How can I improve customer service?

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A: Unlike a supermarket environment where some customers have time to stop and chat with staff and embrace service initiatives, I understand that yours is a rapidly changing environment and most customers don't have time to stop.

Your approach to service has to be practical and different to a supermarket and yet your objective is the same: you want customers to feel they have been treated well and have enjoyed the experience so they will return.

Firstly, focus on silent service. This is the service which doesn't involve staff interaction but instead looks at how to get the customer in and out of the shop as quickly as possible.

The type of things which affect this might be the customer's ability to get to a pump and fill up quickly, that food menus are easy to follow, that queues are minimal and are moving fast and that everything the customer is looking for is in place.

Many customers will view this as good customer service and their objective of getting in and out quickly has been met.

Where these customers interact with staff, you can then add an extra dimension to service by at least ensuring that every customer is greeted when they come in and receive a farewell as they leave. You also have lots of opportunities on your food counter, for example, to think through the level of service you want to offer. If I order a sandwich and it is evident that I may be going to eat it in my car, then make sure that you hand me a serviette rather than have me go off looking for one.

You could consider adding in additional services like having someone on the forecourt at peak times during the winter when you know customers are buying logs, for example, to help carry them back to their car.

In summary, focus on getting the silent service right first as this will satisfy lots of people and then back this up with good personal interaction where the customer does engage with a staff member. Those two simple steps will help you to stand out.

Q: I am expanding the bakery offer in my supermarket but I am undecided about whether I use bake-off or make everything from scratch with raw ingredients.

A: For decades Superquinn employed the most craft bakers in the country and produced the largest amount of craft bread on a daily basis. We did that from scratch, using traditional methods, while embracing new international recipes and flavours.

Technology has moved on and some bake-off products are excellent and quite honestly the consumer would struggle to tell the difference. But I would point out two potential dilemmas. The first is obvious, which is that once you are using bake off product, your product range is no different to anyone else's.

On the other hand, scratch baking requires more skill at significant cost. The big difference here is that your product can be unique and not easily replicated.

A lot will depend on your objectives and I think there are certain products for which it makes perfect sense to use the frozen bake-off model, while there will be other products you will clearly want to differentiate from the market.

My recommendation would be that you look at a mix of products and ensure that you have a core number of 'hero' breads which are spectacular and over time which you become famous for. I would certainly advise very strongly that you do not adopt a 100pc bake-off model if part of your strategy is to use bakery products to stand out.

Send your small business questions to himself@feargalquinn.ie

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