Twenty years assessing and mentoring business on behalf of the UK’s Guild of Master Craftsmen was quite a learning curve. The Guild is Britain’s premier quality assurance regulatory body. Members include The Ritz and Savoy Hotels, Spain’s prestigious Parador brand. I quickly learnt that being unable to see their business through clients eyes will lose more custom than a recession. A decline in turnover is often the loss of goodwill caused by de-motivated staff.
As fast as restaurants and other businesses generate business with creative cost effective advertising they lose it due to poor staff training and management. Most of us can reel off half a dozen businesses we no longer frequent because we have been offended by poor customer service. It is the self-inflicted recession that never goes away.
The chairman of an American car making giant was the first to see the light. He couldn’t understand why rivals, mostly those with plants in the Far East, were outselling his company’s equally good products. Delegating members of his staff as pretend customers he sent them to his firm’s dealerships and to competitors main dealerships.
He was shocked by a culture of complacency amongst sales staff manning his company’s showrooms. Compared to the customer-friendly ‘can do’ response of Japanese and South Korean competitors their lack of selling skills and poor product knowledge was woeful.
Setting up a department of mystery shoppers their mission was to identify poor service when judged from a customer’s perspective. His aim was to find problems and to rectify them before customers voted with their feet.
He added a complaints department that actually listened to customers, acted on their criticisms; identified and repaired problems so they didn’t recur. The head of another corporation agrees: ‘Today there isn’t much difference in products; it is service that counts.’
My advice to business owners is to invite members of the staff to write down the names of services they no longer use. To do so not because of inferior products but because they have been offended by poor service. Most can think of at least half a dozen such services. If they have been upset then other clients have been offended too.
Nothing kills a business faster than discourteous and incompetent staff. From the moment a client walks through the door he or she should be made welcome and comfortable. Attentiveness and friendliness will ensure they not only return time after time, they will recommend you.
A competent restaurant owner would get the best possible returns by wining and dining his staff at successful restaurants and nightclubs. To then end the splendid occasion with a touché; do it that way. Tip; no, not that kind. Let the chosen restaurateur know your plan of action. With a training course like that he and his staff will soon see how it is done on cruise liners.
Other service providers that fail their customers are local authority offices. Staff must be taught that their monopoly does not justify poor customer service. If their salaries are sourced from their customers’ bank accounts then they have a duty to work to the highest standards of customer service.
Business owners can build and retain custom by inviting friends, unknown to staff, to give their honest opinion after using his services. By all means tell the staff of your intentions. In my experience they respond well when they are involved without threat but with rewards for customer building service.
Business owners should heed the wise words of the Scottish poet, Robbie Burns: “The greatest gift that God can give us; to see ourselves as others see us.”
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