How to… deliver great customer service

02 September 2011
How to… deliver great customer service

As excellent as an establishment's food or drink offering can be, it can never quite compensate for disappointing service. The service skills of both front-of-house and kitchen teams can often act as deal-breakers for customers and are a crucial aspect of a catering establishment's image.

Delivering good customer service is an art. There is not just one single factor that defines what makes it good; it covers everything from providing friendly and prompt service to serving a glass of wine in the right way. The bottom line is that if you have well-trained and knowledgeable staff, it will keep customers happy and encourage them to return.

In order to ensure our staff deliver the high level of customer service that John Lewis is known for we have set up a structured coaching programme.

In our experience, the most effective way to promote good customer service is through live observational feedback. With this in mind, we have set up a system whereby periodically staff are observed by their supervisor and evaluated on a range of criteria, including practical skills within their job role, customer transactions, and approach to certain tasks.

Scores are given against each criterion and used by the manager to form a conversation around what went well and what did not go so well or can be improved - this can be used as part of appraisal as well as to judge gaps where customer service needs improving across the department.

An important aspect for us in terms of keeping our customer service levels high is independent feedback. Across all of our shops and catering outlets we conduct "mystery shopper" visits whereby we send undercover customers to observe the level of service provided at each restaurant. Visits take place each month and detailed feedback is given to the heads of catering of each branch, who then share this with department managers.

But it's not just internal processes we have in place; John Lewis also offers staff the chance to take nationally recognised qualifications such as the Barista Skills Award Level 2, as well as other vocational catering courses. This not only helps to develop their skill set and future career aspirations, but also helps us continue to underpin great service to our customers.

Five tips for great customer service

1 Know your product. Take the time to learn about the menu you are serving so you can answer any customer questions. This could be anything from knowing about its cookery method or the ingredients it's made up of to whether the product is Rainforest Alliance-certified. Being knowledgeable really gives the customer a sense of confidence and trust.

2 Listen and anticipate customer needs. Those who give best customer service tend to do more effective listening. Ask open-ended questions to elicit a customer's needs and wants and closed questions to verify your understanding. Recognising the customer's requirements means fewer mistakes at the service delivery end.

3 Take advantage of any opportunities to learn. It's important to keep refreshing and updating skills and techniques as this will help to deliver great service and develop your career. As well as taking advantage of any training offered, you can also learn from colleagues who are delivering great service. Simply identify what you think makes it great, then learn from it and make it your own.

4 Attention to detail is key. A regular gripe from customers is staff getting the basics wrong. Good service starts with getting the order right, so take note of every request a customer makes, especially when it goes beyond the norm, such as a special dietary need.

It will spoil the meal from the outset if you get orders wrong and the flow of service is broken. However, the real skill is rectifying a situation if something does go wrong - you can leave a great lasting impressing if you provide a solution that exceeds expectations.

5 Remember to smile. Being served by a pleasant person can greatly improve the experience of the customer, so remember to smile and maintain a cheerful attitude throughout. It's simple, but true, and so many forget to do it.

Marco Zacharia, commercial development manager food service, John Lewis

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