News for the Hospitality Executive
Keep Service Up in a Down Economy
|by Steve Curtin
Yesterday, I brought my family to a quick service Mexican grill. While I was providing my order to the prep person behind the counter, I observed the sales transaction of the customer who was ahead of me. At no point during the transaction did the cashier smile or even make eye contact with the customer. In fact, the irony was that the customer said “thank you” as he accepted his receipt. Even so, she still did not acknowledge him.
We have all experienced this level of apathy from “service providers” at restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, etc. In fact, we may have just become accustomed to it. Our expectations, in some cases, may have been dulled by the frequency of mediocre service that we encounter as we dine, travel, and shop.
This was a reminder to me that it would have cost nothing more for the cashier to make eye contact with her customer, to smile, and (with “life” in her voice) to say, “We appreciate your business. Thank you for coming in.” Or, a bit more daring, “Thank you for coming in. If those burritos don’t fill you up, come on back. We’ll make more!”
You see, that would have been interesting. That would have been unique. That would have brought a smile to the customer’s face and the experience would have been memorable. But, instead, the cashier just went through the motions, touched each transactional base (e.g., input order, process payment, provide receipt), and robotically, dispassionately moved on to the next functional sequence to satisfactorily process the next transaction.
It brings to mind what I would expect on an assembly line. Imagine an assembly line worker producing a children’s doll. Let’s say the final step in the process is to attach the doll’s head. The worker lifts a doll’s head from a large box, pops the head on the doll’s torso, and twists it firmly until it locks into place. One by one, the assembler “lifts, pops, and twists” and the dolls’ heads until his quota is met or his shift ends. Tomorrow he will return and repeat the process over and over again (i.e., “Lift, pop, twist…Lift, pop, twist…) until the end of another workday.
The restaurant cashier may not have been working on a doll assembly line but the behavior was the same (i.e., Order, payment, receipt…Order, payment, receipt, etc.). Expressionless, robotic behavior devoid of any personality may be permissible in a factory environment or warehouse where there are no signs of a real, live customer—as long as certain production quotas and delivery schedules are met.
In a customer-facing position, however, the behavior must be different.
In the current economy, while costs are increasing, pricing pressure is forcing businesses to reexamine their pricing strategies. In the case of restaurants, that may mean reducing portions, prices, or both. In the case of hotels, it may mean lowering their rates to increase market share, reducing amenities, trimming labor hours, and other “profit protection” strategies.
These are tough decisions that are indicative of difficult economic times.
Most operators seem to accept that the answers to navigating a recession are found in budgets, productivity reports, and P&L statements. While fiscal responsibility is necessary regardless of the economic landscape, the real key to sustained rapid improvement is to focus your people on focusing on customers. It costs nothing but a little proactive thinking and your time—which, especially in this economy, is time well spent.
Here are some examples:
By applying these informal suggestions frequently,
a service-based business will create more goodwill with its customers that
will translate into enhanced loyalty, referrals, and repeat business.
And here’s the best part: there are no buttons or banners or expensive,
large-scale rollouts required. The only requirement is for managers
to consistently apply the basic principles of communication, feedback,
and recognition that embody leadership.
Steve Curtin is a customer service, training, and public speaking enthusiast based in Denver, CO. www.stevecurtin.com