Do you have a Customer Focused Culture…or Vulture?

A salutory tale of the joy to be had from a customer focused culture …and the pain where none exists.

Last week I celebrated my birthday and, in accordance with my advancing  years, treated myself to a sedate outing to my local café for a coffee.  I’m rather fond of a good old “Greasy Spoon” and so, sad as it may sound, I was quite excited about it.

After ten minutes patiently waiting for the solitary waitress to notice me amongst the deluge of other customers (an old man & 2 giggling school girls), she arrived at the table in a slo-mo worthy of Chariots of Fire and indignantly barked “waddya wan’?”.  My strong black coffee without sugar did not go down well.  D’ya wan’ milk?  No thanks.  D’ya wan’ Sugar?  No thanks.

Five minutes later, a mug was thrust in front of me… accompanied by a coffee tidal wave that nearly had me reaching for the condiment sachets in order to fashion an emergency buoyancy device.  Alas, the coffee had milk in it.  After spending some time trying to alert the waitress by catching her eye (which was actually quite difficult, considering she was hanging out the door smoking a cigarette), I took my mug over to her and politely mentioned that I’d ordered it black.  This too, did not go well.  I can only compare her reaction to something I would have expected had I just come out of prison after a 15 year stint for kidnapping her granny.  Ten minutes later I sat enjoying my now black coffee.  Well, I say enjoying… at this point I was being stared at and was somewhat in fear of my life.

By way of comparison…two years ago, I enjoyed my first visit to America.  One of the first things I did there was have breakfast in a Denny’s restaurant.  If you’ve never visited a Denny’s, it should speak volumes that I went back for breakfast many, many times over the course of that fortnight.

The waiting staff couldn’t do enough to make my experience as positive as it could be.  When my coffee looked in the slightest way depleted, along came the waitress like a psychic silent ninja carrying a coffee jug, to top it up – no need to ask.  When my curiosity started to get the better of me and I ordered grits (I’ve watched too many films not to be intrigued), she helpfully arranged a free sample to taste; cheerfully explaining that people were often surprised by what they actually were.  Not only was she right, but she saved me a few dollars in the process.  When my boundless curiosity extended to biscuits and gravy, she again arranged with a smile for me to have a free tasting sample.  She anticipated what I wanted before I even realised it myself.  I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d ask to take in my ironing at the start of my breakfast and delivered it back to me freshly pressed as I left… free of charge.  The woman should have been wearing a cape – she was a superhero.

I first wondered whether the exceptional service simply reflected the different approach to wages and tipping etc.  But then I experienced exceptional service in places where tipping wasn’t required and/or wages were more reasonable.  So, what was it?  Intrigued, I spoke to a few of these service superheroes and without realising, they revealed the secret of their superpowers… each of these workplaces had a strong customer focused culture.  All their goals, expectations and objectives were orientated towards customer service.

These things rarely happen organically and don’t happen overnight.  So how do you enable the birth and facilitate the growth of a customer service focussed culture?  Here are just a few thoughts:

  • Everyone should use the valuable opportunity of experiencing what it’s like to be their customer – step into their shoes and experience what they experience.  Wait in that queue, ring that helpline or make that purchase.  What did it feel like and what would you change?
  • Every workplace contains people who have a natural talent focussed toward customer service.  Harness this ready-resource and utilise these individuals as customer service champions who share their best practices with their peers.
  • Take the time to find out what your customers are saying about your service and share this with your people.  Working with them, use that information as a platform to enhance their delivery and your service.
  • Ensure customer service is reflected in your business drivers.  Update those Key Performance Indicators and Objectives to include customer service expectations.
  • Whether they know it or not, every business has core values.  Make sure yours support and promote exceptional customer service.
  • Ask yourself whether your focus on customer service is visible – is it transparent for your staff and is it discussed?
  • When it comes to measuring and discussing both performance and behaviours, ensure this is done in parallel with customer orientated objectives.
  • Ask yourself whether everyone in your organisation (from the very top to the least senior) is focussed towards customer service.  That old adage about caterpillars comes to mind – it only gets anywhere when all legs are moving in the same direction.
  • Make certain you reward and recognise exceptional customer service.  As Bright4impact say: Beat them with those Carrots.

A culture focused on customer service produces employees who are passionate about delivering an exceptional service and proactive in improving the experience of their customers.  It’s a culture that leads to 360 degree gain – improving the experience and enhancing the benefits for the customer, the employees and the business.

Perhaps I should share this thought with my local greasy spoon… I’ve got my safety goggles and gum shield ready, so who’s with me?

8 Responses to “Do you have a Customer Focused Culture…or Vulture?”

  1. Steven Blake

    Excellent blog. I think a lot of it also depends on the persons manners they learnt when growing up and the ability to give service not being equated to being servile! Attitude seems to play a big part and often it is just the lack of them realising how they come across! Obviously training helps and particularly showing them bad service as well as good. My girlfriend and I had a lovely meal a few weeks ago and were highly amused by the polite and friendly but somewhat gruff young waitress who brought two dishes to the table and stated “rice?, noodles?” in a monotone voice.

  2. Catherine Lee

    I’m with you!!
    Brilliant blog this Friday and I agree with all of the points made 🙂

    I must admit that I love Denny’s and when I was in America I did find the level of service fantastic. As you said they definitely have a skill for refilling coffee!
    There was only once that my Grandma and I were in a restaurant and the waitress couldn’t do enough for us, making sure we were ok etc until we didn’t leave a tip (it was a buffet that you get yourself!)
    One thing I find is that if you do get a waitress/waiter that just doesn’t seem to care about their customer and we don’t as the customer make a point and say “That’s not what I ordered” then they just carry on giving bad customer service.
    I was always taught by my Mum and in work – treat others how you would be treated yourself.
    It’s the age old question are we putting up with bad customer service because we are loyal to a brand or because they are the cheapest.

  3. Front Page Boy

    Amusing and alarming accurate observations again EHJ
    Now I have a second reason to look forward to Friday, your blogging is sublime

  4. dw

    Excellent observations, once again. Maybe we should all complain more and hopefully businesses will start to realise that customers keep them in business.

  5. Mark

    I’d love to know the secret of what America does to its restaurant staff to make them as brilliant as they are. Dennys, TGI, Ruby Tuesday, Tony Romas….the difference between UK service and US service, as a general rule, couldn’t be more marked. Here in the UK, a Denny-standard of service is the exception, whereas in the US you seem to have to go a long way to find poor service.

    Whilst in Florida a couple of years back, I ate at a Tony Roma’s steakhouse. Having been a few years earlier, we knew we’d go back a couple of times during our visit, and so on our first day headed straight there. We were escorted to our table, introduced to our waiter, and enjoyed our evening. Despite having to tend to 25-30 tables, all with constantly changing customers, he never lost his smile or sense of humour. At the time, I figured that everything was aimed at the cross-sell, upsell or most profitable dishes, but a week later (which, in his experience would possibly have been a thousand or more customers later), when we returned, he suprised us even further.

    At our first visit, his conversational style had us sharing where we were staying, and what we intended to do whilst we were in Florida. The Dark Knight movie was released when we were there, and I had told him that we intended to watch it at IMAX, and that we would head to Sea World. And when we went back?

    “So, how are things at The Lakes? Did you get to see the Batman movie yet?”

    The Batman movie may have just been an obvious conversation piece, but remembering where we’re staying was exceptional attention to detail. It made us feel valued – not just one of the thousands of people he was serving that month.

    It’s unfair to judge every waiter’s service against the bar that this guy set – impossible, almost. But it’s not unfair to hope that staff can at least AIM for that level of service.

  6. The Sword

    Another fantastic post EJH. Insightful, witty and beautifully written. Roll on next Friday.

  7. Nathanman

    Cracking observation.
    While I have no negative things to say about where I eat, I get your point exactly. I’ve visited the States quite a few times myself and the first thing I say to anyone who is thinking about going is that customer service and general attitude over there is second to none. It’s one of the main differences here.
    It may be a tipping thing but American people are on the most part, extremely polite and helpful, something that our side of the pond should be taking notice of. Not that we’re all ignorant buggers, but the British people in general need taking down a peg or two.

    Looking forward to the next blog, always a welcome read.

  8. NDJ

    I really enjoyed reading this, your points are spot on and funny too. Can’t wait for Friday.


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