Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Another rant on customer service

I just don’t get it … I simply do not get it!!

So there we were today in Solihull ….. Enjoying a lovely coffee morning with a group of people Annie had got together for a reunion. It was a nice room in the hotel and the company was excellent – all in the garden seemed rosy.

We all had a cup of tea or coffee each and I went up to the bar to pay the bill at the end of the get together.

The bill was £38 which seemed an awful lot for 18 people, particularly when there were no biscuits provided and only one cup each of liquid refreshment.

I asked if there was any chance of a small discount in view of the number of people who had been brought into the place through the get together.

The ‘jobsworth’ person behind the bar simply said ‘No sorry that is the charge’ – the body language was saying no negotiation!

Result? - The person had 18 disgruntled customers leaving the establishment who are not likely to return or recommend the place.

Let’s just reconstruct the scenario with a different response.

Me: £38 seems a bit steep – any chance of a discount for such a large group?

Bar Manager: Ok sir I will knock off £3 – glad you enjoyed our hospitality and we would love to welcome you back.

– 18 people walk away delighted with the service, they would happily return to the place and they will tell their friends.

In the words of the song …. 'When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?'

And this really is not complicated

Please sack all jobsworths and employ people instead who dare to be different!

Let me be clear - The point I am making is not about whether it was a fair cost or not.

The point I am trying to make is how some people will never understand customer care as long as they have the ability to breathe out.



Anonymous said...

I've heard this counter-rant from many friends in the hospitality industry:

So, you have a _large_ group, probably requiring a rearrangement of a substantial portion of the furniture, and which taxes the endurance of the three servers.. you did have three servers, right? Thr large group also allows for people to defect when it comes to the tip, and you want a discount? I'm sure the staff were disgruntled as well.

By the way, £2/drink + taxes (which I'm sure are legion) does not seem unreasonable. I'm not from the UK but isn't the tip calculated in by default?

Mike Gardner said...

Not this time Trevor. You had no right to expect a discount, you knew the cost before you started, you were dealing with an employee not empowered to give you a discount (maybe should have been empowered, but was not), etc. Usually I think your anti-customer service rants are right on, but not this time.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Randy and Mike and thanks so much for your excellent comments. We are going to disagree but stick with me please.

As I said in my post – this is not about the cost. It is about the lack of insight about the difference between having happy customers and unhappy customers.

Randy – I worked behind the bar in English Pubs for almost ten years and I hear what you say about the inconvenience to staff. But come on my friend that is what staff are there for - they are not there to do nothing and have a good time at the customers expense! They are not there to have a good old moan about these inconvenient people called ‘customers.’ It is simple – no customers – no wages. It might be a little inconvenient to have to work hard to satisfy your customer - 'tough' I say. How inconsiderate we customers are to expect good service – that is the underlying point you are making it seems to me. I disagree but of course I respect you opinion.

And Mike as for the staff not having the power - come on - we are talking about discretion to allow a small discount that leaves 18 people delighted and talking about the company rather than 18 people going way muttering under their breath about not going back to that establishment. You are saying rules are rules are rules it seems ..... and I thought LEAN was all about empowering and valuing front line staff!!

Guys - Whatever happened to discretion, common sense and treating your staff like adults and trusting them rather than putting them in a straight jacket and not allowing any discretion?

I will let you both into a little secret but please don’t tell my pub boss of 30 years ago..... I would regularly 'let people off' paying a few pence if they hadn’t got enough money. Totally against the rules of course but my rationale as a youngster was ... it kept the customer coming back, spending money adding to the pub profits as well as telling their friends what a great pub we ran. I still feel like that as an oldie!!

Sorry guys I stand by my rant.

All I am asking for is a little imagination from managers to allow their staff some discretion. Front line staff will not abuse trust. This is not about one particular incident it is about the whole style and culture of the organisation.

I am not suggesting anarchy or a revolution here - just some common sense please.

The message it gives me as a customer is

‘The customer is merely an inconvenience to the smooth operation of our rigid policies and rules which are are not flexible’

Anonymous said...

I'll presume from your lack of comment about the actual service that it was acceptable. So under those conditions, they actually went above and beyond. I'm not a person to burden a provider so much: first time patrons, large group, and please may we have a discount. If you are, then we do disagree.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Randy – thanks again for your response

The service was moderate but acceptable. I don’t see how I can make the leap from ‘moderate’ to calling it – in your words - ‘over and beyond.’

If the service were ‘over and beyond’ I would be using adjectives like ‘fantastic’, ‘tremendous’ or ‘brilliant’. Like the many great shops and retail outlets that I do use and recommend to others

I believe there is a total lack of appreciation in this supplier about the importance of customer care.

Let me ask you Randy – imagine you are the owner of a restaurant - would you rather your customers be telling the world what a wonderful place you run or would you rather hear them saying your restaurant is ‘moderate.’ Would you be content to hear customers saying how inflexible your restaurant staff are and that possible regular coffee mornings of 18 customers or more will now go to a competitor down the road simply because of your inflexible rules?

Our discussion is great - I do not expect everyone to agree with me – it is fabulous when people challenge me - that is how I learn and make progress so please keep ‘rattling my cage.’

On this one you and I will agree to differ.

By the way … If it were my restaurant I would want it to be regarded as one that really values and understands the customer and will allow silly rules to be stretched in order to delight my customer. I would want my staff to have the freedom to make up rules to suit the customer if that means we can offer something better than ‘moderately acceptable’ service.

Mike Gardner said...

Trevor, I did say that the employee probably should have been empowered to offer you a discount, but it was obvious she was not. And, one of the pillars of LEAN is respect for people--meaning you give someone a dignified job performing value-added work with the discretion to make the customer happy. But you, as a customer, also have to have respect for the employee, and I did not see much of that in your original post. I'm not sure what the reference to "jobsworth" means, but I don't think it was written with a lot of respect in mind.

And I still don't think you had a right to expect a discount in order to make you and your party happy. Margins are always tight in most businesses and discounts can often mean a lot of happy customers who don't pay enough to keep the business open.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Mike – ‘Jobsworth’ means someone who will not stretch rules and always plays everything by the book – if the cap fits it is not a disrespectful word – it is a factual statement.

I hear what you say that the customer should have respect for the organisation. That will be easier in the place we will go in future for coffee mornings because they will not only be cheaper they will be more customer friendly. They will not have silly rules that are made up for the convenience of the organisation rather than designed to delight the customer.

You are so right about margins - Margins are always tight in my business BUT if I see an opportunity to accumulate though speculating I will go for it. That is surely a way to increase your customer base rather than blindly sticking to the rules and losing customers. That is all I am suggesting here – no big deal – no complex management theory – no management jargon – no millions of dollars risk - no anarchy – nothing illegal – nothing against good financial practice – nothing less than professional ….just good old simple common sense …. Maybe my next posting should be be an example of an excellent organisation that does not have this 'silliness' underlying it every move and does delight its customers.

Anonymous said...

Seems a bit of a rant, couter-rant going here. I don't believe good cusomer service is about doing what the customer (often unreasonably) wants, but rather about paying attention to the customer (as a person) and not "p&%#ing them off." I also think that we need to remember that many service staff are poorly trained and paid, and might feel a bit like they're on the front line without any ammunition. Here's another perspective. I apologize in advance for the use of that non-standard dialect known (affectionately) as american english.

Let's say that the counter person was concerned with providing the elusive "good customer service," but is, actually, constrained by his management from offering discounts--perhaps he's gone overboard in the past. Like all assumptions about the motives of another person, we have no idea if they are true, but I believe we are more likely to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion if we assume they (their motives) are good--and almost certainly going to end things badly if we assume the opposite.

(No harm in asking) Trevor: "any chance for a bit of a break on the price?"

(I've gotten in trouble before)Cashier: "sorry, wish I could, but the boss would have my head."

(One more try) Trevor: "no chance at all?"

(I really want this guy to be satisfied) Cashier: "not a one," but I'd be glad check to see if we could set up some kind of "large group" price if you're in again."

Trevor: "thanks"

Trevor Gay said...

Well said Steve - common sense as always prevails and finds the middle ground and the right answer!! .... please do take a look at my new posting on this subject.

Annie G said...

Actually, the coffee was £2.40 per small cup. We didn't question the price in advance because a few months ago, coffee, including a top-up AND biscuits cost £1.50. There was nothing written down anywhere to inform us that the management had changed and that the price of one small cup would increase by 90p, without top-up and no biscuits. The young lady that served us was very sweet and we didn't for one minute show a lack of respect to her. I just commented that we wouldn't be using the establishment again. They are probably quite pleased :-)

Great discussion guys.

James said...

Trevor... I am with the others on this one... I think you were expecting too much.

I think it is unfair to not frequent this place again as well...

I am not missing your point so much as I think you placed an unrealistic demand on this employee and the establishment.

Meeting an unrealistic request from a customer is not good customer service, it's bad business.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks James – I appreciate your comment

I never mind being in a minority – it is quite a common experience for me.

I don’t think I was expecting too much and I assure you I won’t be frequenting the place again and I still don’t believe the request was not unrealistic - but hey - that’s what Blogging is all about –different opinions.

James said...

just thought I'd rattle your cage, old friend ;)

Trevor Gay said...

You succeeded James!! ... I love it! ... keep looking in on Simplicty Blog my friend - you are always welcome here :-)

Marilyn Jess said...

Great discussion here. I noticed that Annie explained the cost. Seems as though the product and service were reduced and the price was increased by 60% since the last time you went there. We in the US call that 'sticker shock,' and believe me we most times vote with our feet when that happens.

I've waited tables myself--excellent servers don't even blink when a large party comes in-that happened to us last week at a family gathering in Florida. Although an 18% tip was added since we had 13 in our party, the able waiter got extra tips on top of that because everything was prepared as we liked it.

I also agree that most staff lack the necessary training to make on the spot decisions. Thankfully I work in a Customer Service Center that does train our staff very well.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Marilyn.

You are right - most customers vote with their feet in the circumstances we faced. I am delighted your training is encouraging staff to show initiative – I am sure it is not beyond the wit of all managers to free up their staff to make some decisions.

When I worked for many years behind a bar in the pub I loved it when big groups came in because it was a real challenge. I never saw it as a negative experience. And it also gave me an invective because I thought I might get more tips if I did a great job.

Recently Annie and I have had a number of meals in different parts of England in a well known national chain of pub/restaurant. They have an offer of a free salad with each main meal. We have sometimes had just a starter and some waiters/waitresses tell us quietly –‘Oh go on and help yourselves to a salad – I really won’t notice’. Others tell customers the rules cannot be stretched and they watch customers like hawks just in case!!

The organisation is the same one but some local managers obviously have a culture of trying to delight the customer and some have a culture that says to the customer – ‘These are the rules - like it or lump it’

No prizes for guessing which of the waiter/watiresses we would recommend!!

It’s a no brainer.