Are You Passionate or Indifferent About Your Customers?

Jim Taggart's picture

Stressed Employee 1It was our third and last evening in cosmopolitan Montreal, a city where I grew up in the Sixties and early Seventies. Sue and I decided that we would take the train to Montreal from Ottawa to spend the long May weekend to celebrate our 36th anniversary. The weather was great, Montrealers were engaging and we walked for miles to see many great sites.

Since we were both tired we stayed close to the hotel for our last supper. We selected what appeared to be a nice restaurant on well-known Crescent Street. The Sir Winston Churchill is a multiplex eatery, founded in the mid-Sixties. It looked to be pretty decent and we were served promptly by a friendly male server.

We ordered our drinks and watched the NHL hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburg Penguins (which a week later didn’t end as a happy story for this Sens fan). When it came time to order our meal Sue carefully explained her allergy to tomatoes. Our server took note and sent in our order.

However, when our meal arrived Sue checked her plate and discovered bits of tomato on her food. Our server apologized and quickly returned her meal to the kitchen. This proved to be disappointing since having both meals arrive together is what makes dining out more pleasurable. The situation deteriorated further when her new meal arrived, only to discover that her meat was raw in the middle.

We didn’t see our server for a while and by then we were both annoyed enough to just want to leave. We did explain the double faux-pas to our server who apologized. That’s when Sue, who usually doesn’t complain, asked to speak to the manager-on-duty. Our server immediately went in search of him, only to return 10 minutes later to say that the manager said he was too busy to talk to us and that he would “comp” Sue’s meal for free.

That wasn’t Sue’s intention. She simply wanted to explain the importance of listening to the customer and to ensure that those in the kitchen doing the food prep pay attention to the servers. Our server was apologetic, and I told him that he’d done all he could and that we appreciated his efforts. But the Sir Winston Churchill restaurant failed miserably in satisfying two diners who will never return there and who will share their experience with others.

P5184777The restaurant space is highly competitive, with businesses competing for what I’ll call share of stomach. Reputations can be damaged quickly through indifference and poor service. The Sir Winston Churchill will likely carry on without blinking an eye (though I did post a comment on its Facebook page).

In an age of social media, where more businesses are seeking a web presence, it will be interesting to see what impact negative feedback will play in how successful they are. In the old days, word spread by mouth among friends and acquaintances. Now it travels in nano-seconds via bits and bytes.

As a business owner operating in a digital environment, it’s YOUR responsibility to ensure that your employees, especially your managers, are 100% aligned with your vision, operating values and customer service ethic. Remember these three customer service rules on the role of the leader:

  1. Be present with your customers and employees, not just physically but emotionally.
  2. Pay attention to what is going on around you, watching for subtle signs.
  3. Listen carefully to the nuances from employees and customers when they speak. What are they not saying?

Our experience at the Sir Winston Churchill deteriorated because of a manager who was indifferent to his customers. To say that you’re too busy is unacceptable. This situation would never happen in the company where I work part-time, a global home improvement chain. A manager who said that he or she was too busy to talk to a customer would be severely reprimanded, if not worse.

Our waiter that evening was abandoned by management, left to fend for himself. We actually felt bad for him since he tried to address our problem, both with the kitchen staff and then with his manager.

Customers are why any business exists. They are its lifeblood. The day a business loses sight of this is the day it begins a steady decline to irrelevance.

The magic formula that successful businesses have discovered is to treat customers like guests and employees like people.
– Tom Peters