Part 2: How to give great service without paying for it
2007-05-03 15:56:54 -

Founder of O’Briens Sandwich Bars, BRODY SWEENEY, continues his series on how to cope with the stresses and strains of starting a new enterprise 

Lead by example

The whole tone of customer service in your business is set by you, the owner/manager and driver of the business. Paying for food and drink that you consume in your own store sends a strong message to your staff about how you respect your cash. How you personally deal with your customers – speaking about them respectfully (I heard one business associate describing his customers as being like the Taliban), holding a door open for them, thanking them for their business, cleaning up around them and listening to their comments, good or bad  – sends powerful signals to your staff. If, on the other hand, you can’t be bothered to get to know your customers, or aren’t respectful of them…

Praise in front of others, admonish in private

None of us like getting a bollocking, and nobody likes it being done in front of other people. If it’s necessary – and it often is – to straighten someone out about their performance or their attitude, you will earn far more respect from your employee if you do it in private. 
On the other hand, if you have something positive to say about someone, you should shout it from the rafters. It is very important to catch your staff doing something right, as opposed to always having negative conversations with them.

I was walking through one of our stores one afternoon when a customer I knew beckoned me over. Retailing is one of those businesses where everybody is an expert in telling you how to run it, so I was fully expecting a lecture on one of our many shortcomings as a business.
Instead, this customer wanted to tell me about the brilliant service she had received from one of our staff members, Ann McLoughlin. The customer had come into the busy store struggling with a buggy and shopping. Ann had spotted her and asked some other customers if they would mind moving to an adjacent table, so that our happy customer could sit down without blocking the aisle. Ann had then taken her order and brought it down to her table. (O’Briens is mostly a self-service business.)
I was delighted with this feedback, and I decided to use the situation to my advantage. “Ann McLoughlin, get over here this minute!” I roared in front of all the rest of the staff, and indeed a shop full of customers. Ann was mortified. She feared the worst as she made her way over to where I was standing. I put on my ‘you’re in big trouble’ face as she approached. When she was standing beside me, I stood up and said: “Ann McLoughlin, this lady beside me called me over to say that she’s just had the best experience ever in O’Briens, because your customer service was exceptional. I know a lot of other people in this restaurant who work with you, or who are served by you, think you’re fantastic too, so, as your boss, I just wanted to say ‘thank you’.” 

Some people started to clap; our happy customer was beaming. Ann didn’t know where to look: there were tears welling up in her eyes. It was a lovely moment for all the people in the store. Everybody felt a little better going back to work, or going home that evening, because they shared Ann’s delight. 

(Sometime later, she told me that she had never been acknowledged like that before, by anyone, ever.) So shout your praise from the rooftops.

Communicate the vision

It’s an old adage in business that’s its very hard to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re supposed to be going. To the extent that it’s appropriate to communicate with your staff (obviously there’s no point in sharing all your worries and concerns with them) it’s generally worthwhile to let your colleagues in on the plan, and to get them to buy into it.
So we sit down with all our staff at the start of the year and talk about the months ahead. We get feedback from people working with us (which often leads to us coming up with a better plan) as well as understanding of the bigger picture, and how the different parts of the business – and, following that, the different people in the business – will interact.
Top teams know what they’re about, have a sense of purpose, and are made aware of clearly measurable outcomes which they can get their heads around.

Next week: Great customer service continued
? Taken from Making Bread – The Real Way To Start Up and Stay Up in Business by Brody Sweeney, published by Liberties Press – buy at and get a 10 per cent discount 
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