Service with a smile

There is an art to customer service that I worried was waining for a while, but I see hope because I think it’s coming back. In my much younger years I spent a lot of time in bars, on the service side not as a customer…well, admittedly not all the time. Under the wing of a brilliant restauranteur and talented sommelier, we were taught drinks and food service. It was a really enjoyable time in my life as it taught me so much about ‘people’. How they act, how they spend, how they live, love and occasionally deceive. True, at the end of the day it was about making money, but the key to this was that a happy customer will gladly spend money. The simple things like knowing a customers favourite tipple, their preferred table, when to be discreet and when to have a joke – all these things mattered. The restaurant was always busy, a bustling hub until well into the small hours… it worked, but only because together we made it work with great customer service.

Some 30 years on I continue to seek out these little experiences, and sadly I’ve often been left wanting. Personally, I love it when you feel part of the banter in the coffee shop, have an innocent flirtatious moment at the cash register, or see a burly, tattooed butcher go puce from the giggles at a joke that sets the whole place off. It’s simple things like this that create a moment you can’t put a price on, that you can’t script or teach. But it makes you feel good and it bonds you to that place so you keep going back. This is why I think great customer service is somewhat of an art and perhaps quite an old school art at that.

So often I’ve found myself frustrated on a ‘live chat’ when the person at the other end has become totally befuddled because we’ve gone off script. They just don’t know how to answer a question or solve a problem that hasn’t been anticipated. They are somewhat lost and soulless which is just wrong. 

The issue is that remote customer services are just that – remote. You are quite removed from the interaction, they are not looking into your eyes, they can’t gleen any emotion. They don’t see you having a bad day, they can’t detect angst or stress, you are just another box on a screen. Sadly, despite their best intentions, it feels like you don’t really matter. As we move ever more into an artificially-intelligent world, I worry we are forgetting the value of not just customer service but actual customer interaction as a strong brand trait.

Savvy brands are wholly aware now that consumers buy through their emotions and many have realised they were missing a trick, but the big hitters need to try so much harder. Many are unconsciously distancing themselves emotionally from customers by focusing on profits and forgetting the punter. The glimmer of light in all this is that smaller businesses do it so much better and it is here that I can see traditional customer service and values growing. Firstly because they can be agile, and secondly, because each and every customer really matters to them. It is these independent businesses that are thriving and prospering, building so much positive brand equity through recommendations and repeat business that they are snapping at the heels of bigger high street chains… but is that a bad thing in reality?

Everyone is human. We are all the same and we all crave moments of genuine interaction, so don’t be afraid to try something different. We ask you to re-write the rules a little, go back to the old school, look your next customer in the eye and ask “How is your day going?” If they say ‘crap’, don’t be afraid to go off script and ask why. You might turn their day around and gain a customer for life. 

Our moral is the simplest of all business rules… really value the customer, listen to the customer, talk to the customer and treat the customer well. Most of all, make an honest connection and look them in the eye while you do it.