New thinking in customer service is called for, says Stephen Spencer, director of Scottish management training company Ascension Solutions
Imagine the scenario: you're in a restaurant, the service is slow, the food mediocre. After the meal the maître d' asks: "Was everything alright?" You answer: "Fine, thank you."
If only the restaurant could know the truth.
According to Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles in their management parable, Raving Fans! - A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service, customers are satisfied only because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better. If you really want a booming business, they advise, you have to create "raving fans".
The Institute of Customer Service's 2006 National Complaints Culture Survey found that although customers are more willing to complain than three years ago, 68% of them are also prepared to pay up to 20% more for good service. That's surely a golden opportunity for every hospitality business.
Yet, of the 8,000 respondents to Square Meal's 2005 restaurant guide survey, almost half (45%) complained about shoddy service.
So why is so much of our industry's service still mediocre? Superficially, the customer experience is delivered by frontline staff - often young, intelligent people, yet deeply unenthusiastic ambassadors for their employer's product and service. Alternatively, servers might be smiling and attentive, in which case they might well originate from eastern Europe and be relatively unschooled in the English language.
The answer lies at the top: we need leaders at both industry and individual business level who are prepared to invest time, effort and money in recruitment, retention and development programmes that actually work. As an industry, we need to motivate businesses and their people to see their work as a mission, going beyond service into the realm of dream fulfilment.
The starting point, then, is new thinking: a new idea about what we're all trying to do in this industry - no longer service delivery but fulfilling dreams. Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide chief executive Kevin Roberts suggests creating "lovemarks" which emotionally engage customers, rather than mere brands, creating "raving fans" rather than satisfied customers.
But remember: our first "raving fans" must be within the organisation. What have you done today to invest in your most important asset - your staff?