Reputation - Does your customer “Walk Your Talk”?


Have you ever read about a restaurant, lingered over the pictures and devoured each word until the craving became so strong that you had to go and experience it yourself.  Well I did!  However, it was not just a cook book or a magazine article that really got me hooked it was a book that was published by the owner and it was his vision for his business, his staff and the management practices totally focused on customer service that really interested me. 

With the philosophy and wisdom of the restaurant owner ringing in my ears, who incidentally owns approximately 20 restaurants of various food styles I boarded a plane for New York.  Now before you ask yes I was going to New York anyway for a conference (and shopping!), however, I wanted to experience first hand this man’s wonderful team of customer service practitioners, value adding, demi-gods for myself.

The first impression was on the telephone when I rang to confirm my booking, my exuberant voice was met with a tone of “Oh Gee another tourist”.  Reeling from this I made the excuse for them, maybe she’s had a hard day.  Our booking was at 9.00pm the only time to eat in New York, now this is a famous dining icon in the City so we expected it to be busy and yes it was, there were celebrities, government dignitaries, well-heeled New Yorkers and us.  We weren’t met at the door as such, we had to introduce ourselves as the young lady behind the reservation book appeared to be a little dishevelled and the welcoming smile and all that goes with it, wasn’t happening.  We were shown to the table, which incidentally was close to the kitchen and beside us was a large round table that would normally seat 6 was now set for 10 and as their wine was poured by the Maitre De he firmly pushed against my husbands’ chair just tipping it ever so slightly to heave his body past.  Now you accept this once maybe twice but after the 7th time and without an excuse me, sorry or even eye contact we asked to be moved.

Our waiter was from Maine, a charming young lady who was aware of the long delay for our meal and the shoving manager.  This young lady was the only person on the restaurants team who actually displayed any form of customer service.  The whole experience was very disappointing, from the warm Sicilian Wallbanger cocktail, well done steaks instead of rare, unfriendly management and the expectation of a tip (20% of the bill) was vexing. 

However, what really made it disappointing was that I had expected this restaurant to be the pinnacle of customer service.  Was I expecting too much?  No, the owner had written a book he espoused views about other restaurants and their poor service, his business was based on the system and procedures that he had worked so hard to put into place that I was expecting to receive the service that he boasted about.

Would I go back there?  Would I recommend it to friends?  No too both of these questions.  Have I written a letter to the owner informing him of my disappointment?  Yes.

The next day as we walked along 5th Avenue we were approached by a man wearing a clean crisp white apron and a massive grin on his face. He introduced himself and asked us if we were looking for somewhere for lunch and with our motioning heads, he lead us down to the entrance 100 metres away on a side road, explaining to us what was on the menu as we entered he went through the various sections where to and what to order.

This man was fantastic, no hard sell, just passion about the café he worked for.  The meal was great, toasted sandwiches, meatloaf rolls and pizzas.  Would we have found this diamond in the myriad of cafes, restaurants in this busy city, without Lenny introducing himself and creating a hook of visual images in our minds through the words that he used to describe the food, I don’t think so.

The café was simple, the food was delicious, however the cafe staff did not project the image that Lenny had portrayed, long faces, no enthusiasm, we could have easily walked right back out but Tony’s words lingered in our ears, we just had to try the best “toasties” in town.

An interesting insight into customer service standards in the USA was provided by a trade agency which ventured the comment that the population of the USA is of such a magnitude that repeat custom is not a major priority of many businesses, both large and small.

The Agency further proffered that the Australians and New Zealanders generally relaxed and personable approach if translated into American customer service culture could render dividends.

Clearly customer service in the USA like most other similar western situations covers the spectrum from the poor to the very good, even within the one organisation.  The large population base in some situations may underpin a lack of concern with customer service excellence.

As Australians and New Zealanders we have a good foundation for providing quality customer service. Further, with a relatively small population base the emphasis on repeat custom should clearly be a priority.

Does your establishment have a reputation?  Do you know it and do you live up to it?  Of course it is a positive reputation that I am wishing you to focus on here, if you have a bad reputation it is going to take more than reading a column to fix your situation.

As we near the warmer months, no matter what the economy is like people start to venture out and seek external food sources.  Perhaps you have started advertising already for your Christmas breakfast, lunch or dinner or even a new spring/summer menu with lots of tempting choices.

Ask yourself this question “Does the whole team know about the vision for the upcoming season and do they understand the importance of delivering the service with excellence to every customer all of the time?

What or who is the First Impression of your business?  Is it the impression you want to make.  A First Impression stays forever.

Michelle Pascoe is an international trainer and speaker on Customer Service and has recently released the first book of a series Igniting Potential – No Challenge to Hard. it can be purchased on the website and is an excellent Performance Management resource for both employers and employees.