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Text-back

Picture this.  You’re in your favourite restaurant with a group of friends, eagerly awaiting your meal.  Everyone else at your table receives their meal, except for you.  It eventually arrives 15 minutes later, but it’s loaded with the ingredient you specifically asked to be excluded.  When you finally manage to flag down your server, it goes back to the kitchen, but its replacement doesn’t arrive for another 15 minutes.  Then to top it off, your drink is spilled in your lap.

At this point, what would you do?

Did texting the manager cross your mind?

A new service called Talk to the Manager allows restaurant-goers to anonymously complain to the restaurant owner via text.  “Every cellphone is a comment card”, their website boasts.  The rationale behind the service is that management has direct (and confidential) access to complaints, rather than scouring nasty public reviews on sites like Yelp or Urbanspoon.

When I first heard about this service, my initial reaction was that it seemed a little ridiculous.  What happened to speaking to people directly?  We are increasingly placing more and more layers of technology between customers and businesses in the name of efficiency and improvement.

That being said, a few years ago, could you imagine “tweeting” your complaints to a company?  There is no question that Twitter has become the new frontline of customer service.  In fact, I would not be surprised if social media eclipses the traditional call centre as the preferred method of contact.

Are services like “Talk to the Manager” just the latest evolution of customer service?  And, would more people offer feedback in an anonymous fashion?  Perhaps managers would finally hear from the non-confrontational customers who might otherwise have kept quiet.  Of course this type of service would be more suitable to some industries than others. (How’s my driving? Text 555-4435)

As a retailer, would you appreciate a service like this?

Do receive feedback from customers?  Are text-feedback systems just the latest evolution of customer service?

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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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