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Service by Numbers

The restaurant world is filled with various idioms.  I’m sure everyone has heard them; phrases like “Can I tempt you with our hot peanut fudge quadruple scoop sundae?” delivered by the server in a rushed, robotic manner.  As diners, we can almost anticipate them we hear them so often.  But that may be about to change.

 

Last week, I read an article in The Globe and Mail newspaper that examined the latest service trend in the restaurant industry.  Restaurants, the ultimate service business, are recognizing that they need to move beyond scripts to stay competitive.  With so many restaurants to choose from, quality of service can be a distinguishing factor.  As an Applebee’s executive so eloquently put it, “Food is easy to copy, a building is easy to copy, but it’s not easy to copy our people”.

 

So what are they doing instead?  Teaching human observation skills.  Or, in other words, asking servers to pay attention to their clientele.  Some examples?  “Customers who arrive early and well-dressed are likely on the way to the theatre and need fast service” and “chatty tables are more likely to respond to suggestive food and beverage selling”, among others.  Similar insights could be applied to the retail industry as a whole.

 

As a consumer, I can attest that what I find to be “good service” is never scripted.  It’s real human interaction that is timely, and relevant.  It’s when I feel the salesperson is speaking to me, and not saying something because they were told to in an attempt to upsell.  If scripts are not the answer, is teaching observation skills the new magic bullet?

 

Personally, I think that good servers already do this intuitively.  And I think that’s why part of me remains skeptical about this new trend.  I am fully behind the idea of investing in one’s employees, but I wonder, is good service something that can be taught at all?  Sure, you can teach someone the mechanics of painting, but can you teach them to produce art?  It may be a case of “you’ve got it or you don’t”.  Many businesses believe they can hire any warm body and train them.  What’s the result?  Poor performance.  High turnover.  The feeling that anyone can work retail, and the resulting undervaluing of retail employees.

 

I propose retail businesses adopt a new approach:  hire the right people – the ones with a talent for service – and invest to keep them there.  The right people will do an amazing job, and if you treat them well, and pay them well, they will stay.  Some level of training is always required, but starting from the right place is a smarter return on investment.  So start by hiring the right people.  You’d be well served.

 

Is truly “good service” something that can be taught?  How do you invest in your employees?

 

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