Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lost art of customer service?

On a recent car trip I was confronted with possibly one of the worst examples of customer service for a long time. Having been on the road for some 6 hours we stopped for a much needed food break. The food outlet we chose was not a major chain but rather a smallish but well reputed venue. It was packed, and being on the main highway it had an obvious captive audience, with the line of people waiting stretching out the door.

My husband stepped up to place the order and I watched amazed as the service attendant took his order, packed it, accepted money and gave change, all without once making eye contact. It was quite a feat. Having worked in management positions in hospitality and other service industries I was appalled. I have spent many hours training and lecturing staff on the need for quality customer service.

As we took a seat to eat our food, which by the way was really very good, I watched many more examples of poor quality service from all the servers. Just as my indignation and frustration was growing, I was wanting to jump up and tell them how happy customers spend greater amounts and more often, not to mention the idea of complimentary selling, etc, etc, I noticed the behaviour of the customers.

Customer after customer approached the counter with mobile phones stuck to their ears, or talking to their companions, giving their order as an aside and continuing their conversations with little acknowledgement of the person behind the counter.

Since then I have been paying attention, at the supermarket, the service stations and the local store and noticed the dwindling respect that society seems to pay each other. Have customer service standards dropped? In general, I think yes. But can we blame service staff if, as customers, we cannot even give them the common courtesy of acknowledging they exist? I think in may cases, no, we cannot blame them but it is definitely a sad reflection of the way society behaves.

Alternatively there is a great point of competitive difference for savvy businesses to take advantage of. Train your staff to give exceptional customer service, in spite of customer distance and it will pay dividends, there are people who still notice. Even though the food was good, will I stop at the same venue next time I pass? Sadly for them no, they have lost a customer.

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