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How important is the customer in customer service?

Guest Writer

I like a really good hamburger and you can get some good ones here and there. When we go to California, I always stop in for my usual In-N-Out hamburger fix, a double-double, fries and a shake. (If you don't know what that is, you have lived a deprived life.) The burgers are hot and juicy and their customer service is pretty fast considering they are jammed most of the time. It is fun just to watch them work. They have a mind toward customer service.

So what is all this talk about customer service. Good customer service means people feel good about the experience they just had in your store. The people skills necessary to make that happen are teachable. We can learn to care about how our customers perceive us, how we look through their eyes.

You may have experienced going into a business and standing around waiting for someone to acknowledge that you even exist. They will walk right past you and not even look at you much less say, "Someone will be with you in a moment," and then go make it happen. There used to be a restaurant in Orange, Calif. called the Orange Hills Restaurant, up on a hill side with the most beautiful view. The service however, was unbelievably bad. My wife and I and another couple were too early for dinner so we agreed to sit in a little waiting area. After about 10 minutes a waitress finally came and took our cocktail orders. We sipped on them for a while and after they were gone it was still a little too early for dinner. We waited about another 15 minutes without the server returning so I got up, went to the bar to get another round. No one was there. I waited presuming the bartender would be back in a moment. I waited and waited.

Finally, I went back in the kitchen area to see if I could rouse anyone. There were a few workers there; I asked one of them if he could get someone to wait on us and went back to the bar area. A few minutes later someone arrived and took our order. Ten minutes later she had not yet brought our drinks and we were called for our table. I told hostess to have our drinks brought to the table. For the next 10 minutes, no water, no menu, and no cocktails, no body. I then got up and went to the hostess station-no one there so I again went kitchen to get help. She came. Still no cocktail order, but she did bring the menus and water. The waitress arrived and after my rather terse statement, brought the drinks. More than an hour had now passed. Admittedly at this point things began to improve somewhat.

I have a restaurant background having been a chef of a penthouse restaurant in Hollywood. That was the worst service I ever had. There is without a doubt no excuse for that kind of treatment. (BTW: the restaurant failed.)

You can get a pretty good burger in a lot of places. So what's the difference between one hamburger joint and the next? The difference is how you get treated, their customer service. There are few restaurants in our area and the service ranges between very slow and pretty good. None are great. A really good waitress is a marvel to watch. Scurrying around, smiling, and chatting with each person at her tables, never going anywhere empty handed. Her mind going 90 miles an hour keeping track of everything. I truly respect and enjoy watching someone like that.

I don't care if you have a gas station, an air conditioning business, a hardware or fabric store, do carpet shampooing, do day care, or have a cafe, if you can't compete on price, your customer service is the most important aspect of business. Certainly you must have a good product, but if you mistreat your customers, they will not return, and if the service is great, people are willing to pay a little more. They must feel like you care about them. Personal relations, people skills, courtesy and consideration, friendliness and all vitally necessary so that the customer will say, Wow, this is a good store. It is an area of our businesses that we need to improve. We live among some of the friendliest people; I don't know anyone who is not a nice person, but sometimes it does not translate into good service. In business we need to treat our customers as if they are very valuable, and they are. I think graciousness and speed would be good words to apply here, and if you happen to get one of those great waitresses, be sure you give her a great tip to match.

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