Customer Focus – The Key to Success in this (or any) Economy

A Focus on Service

Q: What is the purpose of business? (Hint: It’s not to make money)
A: It is to acquire and keep a customer – the by-product of which, when done consistently well, can be profit.

If you’re like most people, quality of service is of real importance to you in selecting places for dining, shopping or accommodation. Have you ever had such terrible service that you decided never to return to a particular business again? Have you ever thought, “Who the heck hired this person to serve customers?” For some leaders it is a passion to serve customers well. In the case of  Ryanair, the Irish base European budget airline, that may not be the case. It was only after feeling the pain of declining business that CEO Michael O’Leary “admitted for the first time that a reputation for treating its passengers badly might have become a problem.”

Customer Focus   The Key to Success in this (or any) Economy image Customer Service graphic Waiter service tick off2bLast week, when talking with some people about service and competitive markets, I found myself remembering a remarkably bad restaurant service experience I once had, and its interesting follow-up. It certainly made an impression on me – so let me share the story with you.

One Saturday a party of 6 of us decided to meet at a restaurant (a midmarket national chain that I usually enjoy) to celebrate a birthday. The first couple arrived at 6:30pm and requested a table for 6. They were told they could have a seat at the bar while they waited, as it could take 30-45 minutes. The hostess took my friends’ name, however she neglected to give them a pager.  By 7pm, when we had all arrived and were sharing a bottle of wine, we noticed that others in groups of 4 to 6 who had arrived more recently were being seated. Upon inquiring, we were told we should have a table in 10 minutes. By 8pm we were starving, and still had not been shown to a table. We spoke to the manager on duty, to let him know that we were extremely disappointed. His response? He said that there was nothing he could do. Wow!

Anyone who knows me understands my passion for service. The next day I emailed the GM of the location, as well as the President. The President emailed me within 24 hours, thanking me, and arranged a time to call me. He explained that, as the new president, it was his goal to improve service. He volunteered the observation that in his experience, the locations with service-oriented managers tended to do well, whereas in other locations poor management has led to poor hiring and more service complaints. I took the opportunity to share with him our unique system for Job Benchmarking, and the profiling system that assists in hiring better service providers. (Click here to learn more)

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The bottom line? Within 24 hours I had $300 in gift certificates couriered to me, with apologies from the President, as well as an invitation to meet with him. He agreed that, from what he has seen, they need to weed out managers and servers who are not intrinsically motivated to create a “wow” customer experience. And he wanted to learn more about how we help organizations benchmark jobs to hire top performers for better service. See his letter, here.

Unfortunately, the progress towards productive change seemed to stop there. He appointed some mucky-muck to look into it and… guess what? We never heard back. Was it just another leader who uses lip service rather than making an intentional effort toward developing a service culture? Who knows… but in this case, we had been willing to fund a pilot to show how better hiring could increase profits for them. In the end, most of us decided we’d never be celebrating any “milestones” at this restaurant in the future.

Three Lessons

  1. Learn from mistakes to avoid repeating them. To succeed in this or any economy, an organization needs to be customer-centric and client driven. When mistakes are made, ensure that the recovery leads to the customer’s reasonable and real satisfaction, not just a surface-level lip service response.
  2. Be intentional in hiring service ambassadors of your brand. What percentage of your managers enjoy, or are passionate about, serving/helping others? Ensure that you are recruiting “Right Fit” managers and staff who are best aligned to achieve your organizations strategic service plans. Some people are better with analysis and following rules, some are great at serving people. Ensure all recruiters and managers know how to identify and hire service stars. Look at all your front line managers and staff right now and determine which weeds need to be pulled.
  3. On an individual career note, commit to service excellence. Nobody “makes” money (unless they work at the national mint), we earn it through service to others. If you want to progress in your career, commit to doing more than anyone expects in how you perform your work. Your boss and your organization’s customers are your collective clients. Decide to be a top performer in all that you do, and your job prospects will always remain stronger than your competition in the labour market. In the service of people, successful people are “Go Givers”.

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