Great Customer Service – Detail, Memory and Management

IMG_4855I was fortunate enough this week to go for one of the finest meals of my life. Just incredible food – however, that’s not what this post is about (I believe there are many blogs out there on all things foodie..). It’s about the superb customer service that came with the meal and the elements of that service that made it really stand out.

Everyone understands the importance of great customer service, to the extent that re-iterating that point is like reminding people to breathe. But how to give great service is a more difficult problem. Is it responsiveness? Likeability? Efficiency? Politeness? *

The three things that, for me, make truly great customer service are attention to detail, memory of the relationship and great management. I’ll illustrate with a few examples from the meal..

My wife booked the meal and presumably mentioned it was my birthday. As we walk in, at the mention of the name on the booking, they greet me with “Happy Birthday!” – they didn’t need to look this up, they’d been primed before we got there – great attention to detail.

Then they brought the menus – they knew my wife had booked the meal (and that it was my birthday), so the menu with prices went to her, not me – again, great attention to detail and memory of the booking (and also, top marks of course for not automatically giving the menu with prices to the man..).

We explained that we (only!) had three hours for the meal, so didn’t want to feel rushed as we went through the courses (it’s a long meal). They helped us with this, advising a shorter menu, which was great. But then an hour later, the maitre d’ came by and enquired “Hope you’re not feeling rushed? Do you still feel comfortable about being done in time?”. I particularly liked this – he’d remembered what really mattered to us (that we had a relaxed meal, without feeling rushed, ┬ábut with a deadline) and asked us about what really concerned us.

There were lots more examples of this – flawless attention to detail regarding our concerns. But the other thing I noticed, was the style of management used by the maitre d’ with the waiting staff, as well as by those staff with each other. The atmosphere with the customer was quite relaxed, informal and really put us at ease. But if you watched the interactions between the people working there it was one of ruthlessly high standards and not letting anything slip. When serving a particular dish, one of the waiters was standing in the wrong position to be able serve easily. Another of the waiters corrected him (with a look – hard to spot unless you concentrated!) so that the service was flawless. Also, looking towards the kitchen, you could see the maitre d’ constantly monitoring what was happening, directing staff, correcting staff and repeatedly┬ástriving for improvement.

What I particularly liked about this management style, was that the manager had a relentless focus on improving quality at any cost. No concept here of ROI or cost-benefit analysis. If the service wasn’t good enough, then it wasn’t good enough. Of course this is easier in a smaller organisation (like a restaurant), and not such a simple problem if you’re a multi-national bank trying to service millions of customers. But for me, if you perceive service as a “Cost to be reduced” where you’re trying to make sure the customer gets “Just about good enough service that they don’t get hacked off” then you’re on a downward spiral. This has been seen in banks and other service providers over the last few years, where customer service has been outsourced to reduce costs. Contrast this with the restaurant where the manager, I strongly suspect, couldn’t give two hoots about the cost of his service – if he needs to increase salaries to get great people, so be it. If he needs to discipline and fire someone for repeatedly not reaching the high standards he insists upon, then so be it. If he has an attitude that every day was “Just not quite good enough – I need to do better tomorrow” then great – he might be difficult to work for, but to the customer the end result can make all the difference to whether he or she comes back again.

This does come with challenges in a larger org – how to do you embed “Memory” of a customer relationship with your representatives? They can’t remember every detail of every relationship they have (or can they!?) – so you start to rely on systems like Zendesk or Freshdesk to keep track of customer support problems or CRM systems of course, on the sales side. That’s fine, but it’s how you use these systems that count. A boss of mine from years ago knew the football teams of every customer he ever spoke to – every call to a customer would start with “I saw Stoke City did well against Palace on Saturday – you said you thought Mark Hughes was doing a great job..”. Attention to detail and memory of the relationship. This data is available to you, but are you using it properly? A lot of the practices exhibited in the restaurant can be translated to the larger organisation, though it might need process to embed it.

And the management style can certainly be translated to the larger organisation – my view is that the head of customer services shouldn’t care too much about costs or budgets. Yes he or she might need to be reined in at times (“No, you can’t hand deliver a fruit basket to that customer in Tahiti”), but with a ruthless focus on always improving standards, regardless of the obstacles, the end result will be great for customers, and for your business.


* By the way, things like “Likeability” and “Politeness” are, for me, just minimum requirements. Hiring someone to do customer service who wasn’t a really likeable, positive and genuinely nice person is like hiring an actor who “Doesn’t like getting up in front of people”. It’s the essence of the role!

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