Ask anyone who runs a restaurant and you’ll find there is a hell of a lot to do. As managers get promoted it becomes easy to take on the many responsibilities of the business…
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The Secret to Great Customer Service.
If there’s one secret to delivering excellent customer service it’s empathy. Human beings are a pretty complicated bunch and trying to make all of them happy can be a pretty exhausting experience.
I find it fascinating that most businesses, for whom customer service is a key factor to their success, do virtually no training on Emotional Intelligence. We should embrace the fact that human beings are complex, and what makes one person happy, may not work for another. That’s ok, in fact, it’s a good thing. If the same thing worked for everyone customer, service would be pretty easy, but it would also be pretty dull.
I see so many employees who get frustrated when their usual customer service dialogue doesn’t get the response they want. For example, a guest walks into a restaurant, the host gives them the warmest welcome and the biggest smile, and the guest does not smile back and simply states “A table for one, I’m in a rush”. The host is now resentful of this guest and his rude attitude.
But is it rude? Perhaps, perhaps not. In fact the answer is immaterial. The host is upset because the guest hasn't behaved in the way the host anticipated. How is the rest of the night is going to go for the host do we think?
If we expect someone to react a certain way and they don’t it causes us distress, and that becomes tiring over time - that’s why working with the general public can be so draining.
We need to teach employees in the customer service industry that people are different and that’s ok. Some people won’t smile back at you. Embrace that. Understand that for some people it’s just not in their nature to be open and friendly, and you must adjust your style and expectations to suit their needs.
The more we can empathise with the emotional state of our guests, the more resistance we have to their behaviour. Instead of forcing everyone into the way we would like them to behave we start to change our behaviour to suit them. Instead of working with resistance we are working with fluidity and purpose. It’s way more rewarding and way less stressful, not to mention more genuine.
One of the things I love about our industry is the diversity of the people who work in it. I'm not just talking about where people are from or what language they speak, I'm talking about the skill set they have. In what other industry can you find a trainee lawyer, an architect and classical pianist in one room. When you think about it, that’s pretty cool.
Now, there are two ways to look at it. Firstly, these people probably aren’t going to be here that long and they’re not really interested in the job as a career so we’ll just let them get on with things. They’re not really valued as employees. Or we could look and say, “perhaps these people won’t be here forever, but hey, they’re living with purpose, they’re trying to achieve things, they could be a real asset while they’re here”. And this is they key: if you want to bring out the best in people, so they give your guests amazing customer service, you have to make your staff feel valued. How? Just speak and genuinely listen to them. I mean really listen, ask them about their lives, their dreams, they’re interests. It’s so easy to ignore the staff who we don’t see as ‘important’ or see as ‘transient’ but these guys are speaking to your guests every day. If you really value them, they will value your customer. Simple.
Now stop reading this, and go and add some value to your restaurant team. Customer service with heart is what every good restaurant should have and that comes from being valued.
Sometimes, what you see, isn’t always what you get. Don’t judge a book by its cover my dear old Gran used to say. And the same is true with people, as we found out at a training session last week.
We’re in a big new, beautiful restaurant a week before soft launch. We’re mid-session and a shy, nervous student gets in front of the rest of the class. She moves to the front of the room to see if she can put into action some of the things we have been talking about. She starts the mock scenario with our actors. To begin with, her style is cold at best, at worst a bit scary, intimidating, aggressive almost.
Now, at first glance you may have thought there is no way this person could provide gentle, empathetic and fluid service. She obviously hasn’t got ‘it’ and there’s no way she could learn ‘it’. ‘It’ being that elusive, effortless ability to make guests feel relaxed and welcome. Some people may have thought she’s never going to get ‘it’. Just let her get on with it and maybe she’ll leave eventually. Not us. We try a couple of things. She has a go at the scenario again. Not great but better. The girl has heart and determination. The pressure is building as the rest of the class watch on. The actors look a bit scared. We work on voice, body language, intention and then boom! I can’t do justice to the transformation; all of a sudden there is the most incredible smile, a warmth, a joy, a sense of humour. She has ‘it’ and not just a bit but she has ‘it’ in spades and all in under fifteen minutes.
I have no doubt this particular student will go onto to be a General Manager, the feedback from the management team has been incredible and this particular student has discovered a side of herself she didn’t know existed. Transformations like this are incredible and they create the most loyal and dedicated employees; but sometimes you have to get through the hardback cover to discover them. I just wish my Gran could have been there to see it.
Yesterday I went to a very high-end, swanky restaurant, famous in many quarters. Sadly, I ended up on the receiving end of the type of service I can’t stand. Robotic, generic and soulless. Nothing can suck the very being out of me quicker than fake generic service; it reminds me of the dementors from Harry Potter (apart from fact that I have to pay for this agonising privilege).
The food was great, the wine was great, plates laid down with sophistication but the atmosphere of the place was non-existent, no one smiling or laughing, not many people even talking. The staff slowly draining the life out of each and every guest.
I watch intently as our waiter goes around to each table, speaking in exactly the same rhythm and tone, lifeless and all one-way (clearly not listening). There was absolutely no attempt to connect with any of his guests. He was on autopilot, spitting out the same old drivel, locked in his own thoughts, with no regard for any of his guests. Not present, or enaged at all in what he was doing and the scary thing was he thought he was doing a great job! We ask to make an alteration to a dish, the waiter say "yes fine." The dish comes out unchanged; the table next to us have no mains as the waiter forgets to order them. The table to the other side get the wrong starters. Our side dishes are wrong. All because someone isn’t present in what they are doing.
Why does this happen? Because the joy has gone in what they do. There’s no heart or soul in what they do and they don’t know where to find it. Perhaps more worryingly they don’t even no they’ve lost it.
We all get distracted and caught up in our own thoughts from time to time, but to find joy in what you do you must connect with your guests. Whenever I’m distracted I make an extra effort to really listen to my guests, to really give them my full attention. To make them feel valued, and that will make them happy (well most of them) and if you are genuinely part of that experience that will make you happy. The joy of the job is found in the way we communicate with our guests and our colleagues. It defines the energy of a restaurant. Happiness is nothing unless shared.
Something that has always struck me is the amount of untapped potential that lies hidden within the service industry. So much gets overlooked, ignored and ultimately wasted. In the UK especially we seem to have this rather nonchalant attitude towards people who work in the restaurant industry. It seems to be woven into the fabric of it’s DNA. We just don’t take the careers of people who work there that seriously. Now I’m not talking about your General Managers, or your Head Chefs, I’m talking about your waitering staff, your bar staff, your hosts. How much time do we invest in these guys? In my experience not enough.
But these guys are the front-line of your business, the direct link between you and your customers. The represent your business, your brand and speak to way more of your customers over the course of a week, month or even a year than you. And yet, if we’re really honest, do we really train them well enough to represent the company, to be engaging, to make every single guest feel welcome, relaxed and uniquely valued? The answer in most cases is no. We train them adequately, so they can achieve a certain level of service. Sounds ok, right? But once they've achieved that level, work can become a little uninspiring and monotonous. Once we become proficient enough at something we tend to start to switch off a bit. “I can do this with my eyes closed I’ve been doing it so long”. Not perhaps the best way to engage your customers. I see so many Front of House teams lacking motivation and energy. Why? Because no one is investing in them, giving them new skills, unlocking their potential. If you want to change the energy of your team you must invest in them, value them and trust them.
There's heaps of potential in this industry and at HOP it’s all about unlocking it, motivating and inspiring teams through the acquisition of skill. Just even acknowledging that an individual has potential goes such a long way to changing their attitude to work. At HOP we teach teams how to become masterful in what they do. Practical, specific, skills that create change amongst the individual, team and business.