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4 Steps to Fix Lousy Customer Service

4 Steps to Fix Lousy Customer Service

Now that we’re learning consumers think already-lousy customer service is getting even worse, how should your restaurant respond? Consider it a sign that solid execution of hospitality basics can give you a competitive edge. Here’s how to make sure your restaurant delivers.

Customer experience management consultants Empathica polls its 11,000-member consumer panel quarterly to gauge consumer sentiment. The stunningly dismal numbers from its first quarter 2010 survey (55 percent of American consumers said customer service was getting worse then, 32 percent said it wasn’t) declined even further in the second quarter, the firm reports. Now 62 percent say service is worse, and only 25 percent say it isn’t on the decline.

Which is to say, nearly two-thirds of American consumers aren’t happy with the customer service they receive. It’s an astounding finding, and the rate of decline is a scary trend, too. Yet these results resonate with many peoples’ personal experience.

It’s not just the quality of service that’s at issue. It’s speed of service, too.

“Along with economic uncertainty, we’re finding consumers have become more impatient to receive the service they desire when they visit retail, restaurant and financial establishments today,” says Empathica’s Dr. Gary Edwards. “Of course, there are companies that prove to be the exception, but for others it appears they are failing to recognize the potential consequences poor customer service can have on the overall success of their business.”

The most striking survey result is that those in their prime earning years (ages 35-64, who have the most income to spend) are the most dissatisfied. Young adults ages 18-24 and the presumably grumpy over-65 age cohort are the most tolerant of the service they receive.

The implications for restaurants are clear: those who can provide merely average customer service gain a competitive edge by default.

How do you make sure this happens? Here’s what Empathica and Edwards tell its big company clients to do. All of the ideas are good ones; some of them might be applicable at the small chain and independent restaurant level, too.

1. Allow CEM to Have a Say. Allow Customer Experience Management individuals a seat at senior management meetings. This will give the customer a voice in company-wide initiatives and make it a priority to deliver on differentiated service at critical customer touch-points.

2. Don’t Be Defensive. Don’t take a defensive view that better customer service automatically translates into labor cost implications (i.e. more people on the floor), and thus justifies sweeping it under the table. Oftentimes, customer service can be drastically elevated by simply instructing employees about what they need to do better and by the same token, where they can reduce effort to create efficiency. It can be achieved by knowing, first and foremost, what your customers want that drives their loyalty. This leads to the next point.

3. Conduct Better Training. Reinforce the right behaviors with team awards, and make sure employees have action items coming out of company meetings. Don’t assume employees will know how to deliver on customer expectations; instead, make them privy to customer feedback and daily reinforcement of what you and the customer expect of them.

4. Obsessively Monitor and Manage the Detail. Every retail or restaurant unit requires vigilant and constant monitoring and management to ensure that what matters to customers is being delivered. Attending to the small details that matter leads to large rewards in customer advocacy.

We know; it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. But restaurants are in the hospitality business, and the Empathica numbers are telling you that only a small proportion of you are doing even average hospitality right. We can see a huge payoff for those who can do it not just right, but really right.