Sunday 17 December 2017

Problem Solver: Who's to blame for bad service at my lunchtime café?

Feargal Quinn
Feargal Quinn

Q: I work in the city centre and most days I buy my lunch from the same café. Sadly the service levels are appalling and recently I made the decision to go elsewhere. How can a business allow this to happen?

A: From what you are describing the deteriorating service levels seem to be prolonged and I would lay the blame with management.

In fact I would go one step further and blame the owner or managing director. Great customer service is all about culture and attitude and this is set from the top.

I remember visiting a very specialist supermarket in the States called Stew Leonard's. It is a bit of a quirky supermarket operation which has a milk dairy in the middle of the store separated by glass walls from the consumer and lots of animated monkeys and other characters swinging from the ceilings. On meeting the owner, Stew, he said something really interesting about service that always stuck in my mind.

When he was training new staff or when he was speaking at a management meeting to his team he would ask everyone to picture each customer as they came in through the door with an amount of money stamped on their forehead.

I can't remember the exact amount but it was certainly in excess of $100,000. Stew had worked out that an average consumer spending say $60 per week at his store, who remained with him for 20 years, was worth a hell of a lot of money.

By getting staff to look at customers with this theoretical money stamped on their forehead caused two reactions. The first was that staff valued customers more now as they understood the potential benefit to the business. More importantly they became focused on the fact that if that staff member caused the customer not to return, the business was at a loss of an enormous amount of money. A good philosophy I feel.

Clearly in the café you have been frequenting no one has thought about the value of a customer and the value of great customer service. Great customer service is not lip service, and is not 'a nice to have'. It makes real commercial sense and any business owner who doesn't get this is at serious risk of jeopardising their business.

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