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Serving Up Success: Waiting Tables Taught Me Customer Service?

By Stephanie  Hartigan
October 17, 2012

When I joined Orgwide a little over a year ago, I was beyond nervous regarding my "business skills." Being the ripe old age of 22, I had what might be considered slim work experience, not to mention never having held a position in a corporate setting. Specifically, my biggest concern coming in was whether I could effectively communicate with and provide for our customers. How could I confidently comfort the customer if I was not comfortably confident with my own capabilities?

It was quite a surprise when I realized that I really did have experience in effectively communicating and providing customer service. Where, you ask? No, they didn’t teach customer service in my grade school, and I certainly didn’t learn it from my friends (no disrespect to my peeps). I had actually learned the basics of what I needed to be successful in my new job at Orgwide – and some valuable and lifelong skills from my first job: waiting tables! Yep, as it turns out, I had been developing my customer service skills for almost six years, and didn’t even know it! With additional consideration, I found many customer service parallels between serving food and providing customer support. So, without further ado, I bring to you Stephanie’s ABCs of Customer Service:

A – Anticipate the Customer’s Needs.
Whether you’re taking their drink order or answering their call, it is really important to anticipate the needs of your customer. As soon as I see a guest walk in the door, I already know some key things they need: menus, silverware, and a warm smile with a friendly greeting. Then, it’s on to drink orders and so forth. When it comes to customer support, you should carefully listen – really listen - to what the customer is saying to gain a better understanding of what is most important to them. The better you know your customers, the easier it will be to anticipate their needs. At the end of the day, it comes down to a simple truth: customers buy solutions to their problems, whether that’s food for their empty bellies or tech support for an eLearning course!

B – Be a Team Player.
I’ve worked in three different successful restaurants (a family-owned local diner, a corporate chain, and a high-end French restaurant), and there was one specific unifying theme: teamwork. Some managers made it a point to call everyone together for a “team meeting” before the start of each shift. Others would acknowledge the team’s hard work by taking us out to dinner. In the corporate world, it is equally important to be a team player and encourage others around you as well. When the entire support staff is functioning as a whole, you’ve built a solid foundation for the business to provide exceptional customer service and create raving fans!

C – Check-in for Feedback. It’s hard to believe that I asked for feedback close to a hundred times every shift I would work as a server, and never even knew it. An important aspect to how I take care of my customers is I am constantly asking if everything’s alright, if there’s anything additional I can get for them, what can I do to make their experience even better, etc. By asking these questions, I was receiving immediate feedback on my performance, as well as learning about each individual customer’s needs. One of my regulars always wanted Splenda with his coffee, and another wanted extra strawberry jam and REAL butter with her toast. It only takes once (ok, sometimes twice) before I remember to bring those special requests as soon as they sit down – without being asked! When it comes to customer support, the key is to give more than expected. Elevate yourself above the competition by asking “how can I make it better for you?” Most of the time, the customer will tell you what it is he or she wants or needs. From there, it is up to you to make it a memorable, positive experience. Making the customer feel special will almost always result in repeat business.

Who knew I could learn so many transferrable skills in what I thought was just part-time restaurant gigs. It’s vital to listen to your customers and anticipate the things they will need. When you look out for your team mates, everyone will be working as a team and can exceed your customers’ expectations. Finally, it is essential to constantly and consistently improve your skills by asking for feedback. Following up with your customers will ensure the mission was accomplished, or provide you with an opportunity to improve. Either way, the key is to maximize your “tips”. I’ll leave you with an inspirational quote for customer service employees all around the world. Mr. Bill Gates said it best, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."

Stephanie Hartigan joined Jim Hartigan and the OrgWide Services team in 2011.
Jim Hartigan, Chief Business Development Officer and Partner joined OrgWide Services, a Training/e-Learning, Communications, Surveys and Consulting firm in April 2010 after nearly 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, including the last 18 as a senior executive with Hilton Worldwide. Jim’s last position was that of Senior Vice President – Global Brand Services where he provided strategic leadership and business development and support to the $22B enterprise of 10 brands and more than 3,400 hotels in 80 countries around the world. His team was responsible for ensuring excellence in system product quality, customer satisfaction, market research, brand management, media planning, and sustainability.

Jim Hartigan
Chief Business Development Officer & Partner
OrgWide Services
165 N. Main Street, Suite 202
Collierville, TN 38017
office: 901.850.8190  Ext. 230
mobile: 901.628.6586

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