Category Archives: Customer Service

Recruiting? Watch your red flags, especially with Gen Y

This morning I was facilitating an introduction to recruitment and selection for restaurant managers, and there was one particular “a-ha” moment for the group that I thought I’d share.

It was about the “red flags” or preconceived notions that managers traditionally based hiring decisions on during the selection process.  Here are some of the things that these managers had been screening out when candidates applied for jobs, and the challenges I posed to them.

No Pen.  Why would an applicant come to apply for a job and not bring a pen with them?  Many managers thought that if they need to hire someone who is organized and prepared, this is a big red flag, and that they would automatically take these candidates out of the running for the job.  My challenge: In an age of blackberries and iPhones, what Gen Yer is carrying a pen with them?  They use computers at school and text to communicate across distance.  They likely aren’t thinking about our antiquated process of having someone fill out an application.

Sneakers and other dress code no-no’s.  This one is a tough one to get past for many.  For those of us in Gen X or the Boomer generation, it seems like simple common sense for people to dress up when they are applying for jobs.  Why would I give someone a second glance who walked in to hand in a resume in sneakers or jeans?  A few things to consider:  First of all, especially in an industry like the restaurant industry, people are often applying for their first job, and nobody has taught them how to dress.  One manager said to me “My mother wouldn’t have let me out of the house to apply for a job in running shoes”.  My response: If you judge them on their clothing, you may be finding more out about the applicant’s parent than about how they themselves will actually fit into your culture or serve your customers.  Some other things to consider before you cross these sneaker-clad folks off your list: Perhaps they thought they were only going to drop off a resume and didn’t expect to see a manager.  Perhaps they have been watching leading companies like Google and Zappos and have seen the dress code there (not business casual), so thought jeans were the norm.  At the end of the day, it’s likely you have a uniform or a dress code in your business, so you can easily set the expectation for dress code with the right person.

Applying for a job during a peak revenue period.  Talk about a no-no!  Granted, if you’re managing a restaurant, you are likely busy during the lunch and dinner periods.  My watch out here, though, is twofold.  First, in my mind, it is most important to find someone with the personaliy that fits your culture and values, who will genuinely care about serving your customers, rather than someone who has a wealth of experience in your industry.  So this may be a candidate who doesn’t know that Friday night between 5-8 is a bad time to apply.  In fact, on the contrary, they may think that this is the best time to apply, since it’s likely a manager will be in the restaurant.

At the end of the day, my advice to these managers was to focus on the personality traits of the person and whether they are a fit with what you’re looking for.  You can train them on your expectations and the job responsibilities.  Always remember that a job applicatn is also a potential customer, and that the way you treat them is what their impression of your business will be.  Whenever possible (always) take 2 minutes to at least meet them, introduce yourself, and ask a few general screening questions to see whether you should take further time later to interview them.  Be careful how you judge some of the traditional red flags.  You never know when your next superstar is going to walk into your restaurant, and the worst thing you can do is turn them away because of a missing pen, poor clothing choice, or bad timing.  Your competitor may be the winner in this situation, as the superstar walks across the street and gets hired.

What do you think?  What “red flags” do you screen candidates out of the running for? 

Pic from Flicr user rvw


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Serving your Internal Customers

I think most leaders realize how important it is to provide great service to clients or customers. I often find, though, that some organizations forget about engaging and “serving” their internal customers – their employees. In fact, I would argue that the relationship that leaders cultivate with their employees is actually more important than the one they have with their customers, especially in industries where employees work directly with customers.

I recently attended a workshop led by Ari Weinzweig, of Zingerman’s businesses in Michigan.  He spoke about Zingerman’s 12 Natural Laws of Business, and one of them hits this point about serving your internal customers.

If you want staff to give great service, give great service to staff. 

I liked Ari’s way of defining this.  He said “the service your staff gives will never be better than the service you give your staff”.  Zingerman’s leaders use their same principles for serving customers for serving staff:

1.  Figure out what the customer wants.
2.  Get it for them: Accurately, Politely and Enthusiastically.
3.  Go the extra mile. 

Guess what?  Zingerman’s has been so successful that even in the past couple of years of uncertain economy, they have surpassed their annual planned sales.  And in 1994, they developed a business called ZingTrain, and have actually added revenue by teaching other businesses about their service model.

What do you think?  How do you and your organization serve your internal customers?


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Customer Complaint Resolution – all about attitude

After years of working in hospitality and seeing good and bad problem resolution skills (and practicing both myself), I’ve learned some best practices in dealing with angry customers.  I have to say the most important first step is to face customer complaints positively.

Think of complaints as a way to improve your business. Many companies spend thousands of dollars on research, focus groups, and studies on their business.  If you simply spend time understanding what your own customers are loving and disliking about your business, you can save money and boost your success.  I remember working with Restaurant Managers who, when a waiter told them they had an unhappy customer, would get angry themselves, immediately.  Before long, wait staff were afraid to go to these Managers with an issue.   Many people don’t complain – at least not to the company… but they do tell family and acquaintances, and in the world of Twitter and Facebook, followers and friends.  Businesses such as restaurants are extremely lucky to have a captive customer for a period of about an hour, during which they can resolve any issues if they just react quickly and positively.  So when an employee comes to you with a complaint from a customer, thank them for bringing it to them and then work with them to resolve it.

If you have an intense desire to be right, customer service may not be for you.  It is essential that you believe the customer.  This may be difficult, because although we’ve all heard the adage that “the customer is always right”, we know it’s not always true.  However, you are dealing with the customer’s perception of what has happened, and that is absolutely true and important.  No matter whether you know that the customer actually caused some of the problem themselves (by ordering the wrong thing / not following instructions, etc), or if you know that they are exaggerating or simply being untruthful, it’s not important to prove them wrong.  In fact, that will only make matters worse.  Go into any customer complaint with the belief that the customer’s perception is reality, and find out what will make them happy.

Angry customers don’t want an explanation. I have seen letters written to customers explaining why things had happened the way they had, or even blaming others for what had happened to the customer.  None of these excuses make any difference to the customer.  To them, you have ruined their experience, they have had the respect and courage to tell you about it, and they simply want you to fix it.  Swallow your pride, apologize for what went wrong, and do what it takes to make the customer happy.

Act quickly and proactively! The longer you wait to deal with a customer complaint, the less likely they will ever deal with your business again, and the more likely they will tell more people.  In fact, in some businesses, you may recognize a problem before it is a major one.  This is often the case in restaurants, hotels, and even retail delivery operations.  Timing or slow service is a very common complaint – from waiting for a table or food in a restaurant, to not having rooms available and ready upon check-in, to delivering furniture or retail items within the timeline promised.  These are some complaints that you can get ahead of if you are somewhat proactive.  Watch the timing of promised items in your company.  If you are nearing a deadline, call or speak with the customer before they realize it.  Often times, they simply appreciate the fact that you haven’t forgotten them, and that you cared enough to follow up, and it will not bother them when the timeline is long.  However, many managers make the mistake of ignoring these sorts of issues, and hoping that the customer will not notice or not complain.  I would guess that 9 times out of 10 the customer does notice, and that although not all of them complain, all of those tell at least 2 people.

At the end of the day, if you watch for issues proactively, approach them in a positive way and always think of the customer as telling the truth, you are well on your way to being able to turn customer complaints around.

What’s the worst customer service you’ve ever had?  How many people did you tell about it?  Have you ever dealt with a company that resolved a problem and wowed you with their reaction?  Tell me about it in the comments below or tweet to me.


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Is your Receptionist turning away customers?

Is your receptionist helping or hindering your business? Lately, I have run into several that were doing a great job turning away my business.

The first situation was with my veterinarian. My family and I have been loyal clients, bringing our pets to this particular vet for 30 years. Recently, I moved to a town which is a half hour away.  Regardless of this, I continued to drive to the same vet for more than a year. Until my last appointment a few months ago.  I ran into unexpected traffic on the highway on a Saturday morning, arrived 10 minutes late, rushed in the door and immediately apologized. The receptionist’s reply? “You’ll have to reschedule.”  No questions asked, no apology for not being able to fit me in, ultimately no attempt to help the business. After I told her where I live and that I wasn’t sure when I could get there again, she shrugged. When I said I would find another vet, she ignored me and answered the phone. So I did just that. I will not go back to that vet, and neither will my family.

More recently, I needed to have my hair done. I called my salon, where I’ve been a client for 10 years and where I’ve referred countless friends. When I asked for an appointment with my regular stylist, I was told she was booked for the date I requested, so I asked about a 2nd stylist, then a 3rd. All were either off or too busy to see me that day. I then said “I guess I’ll try to find another salon.” The receptionist said “okay”, and hung up.  Now, a woman will make a lot of allowances for a great hairsylist, but this was the 3rd time this type of thing had happened with this salon. 

So I did find another salon. I got a great cut and colour, and I’ll likely go back there.

My thoughts… These receptionists were apathetic rather than empathetic, and they displayed no problem solving skills. Training for this position likely consisted of an explanation of how to use the phone and computer, and how to bill people. The softer skills are what is missing. They should be taught to find solutions if they can’t satisfy the initial request a customer has. In my salon example, I was obviously open to seeing other stylists, and if the receptionist had offered that or another nearby date, I would have likely taken her up on the offer.

Ultimately, both of these receptionists likely think that their job is to answer the phones and book appointments.  They should be taught that their role is to build loyal customers and ensure that your business is as profitable as possible.  From a “hearts and minds” point of view, these people were taught the rational side of their job, the basic tasks. But they were not taught to engage the hearts of their customers. Teach your receptionists that their role is critical to your business. They are the ones who actually come into contact with every single customer that deals with you, and their role is to do what they can to build positive relationships and your business.


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