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Customer Service - Food for Thought

Before I came to Enspire Learning, I spent years working as a chef and restaurant owner. I’m frequently struck by the degree to which working for a learning provider is like working at a restaurant. Some restaurants sling pre-packaged value meals. Some learning providers do that, too, while others prepare sumptuous feasts created specifically for the person or business consuming them. People working for both of these businesses need to share a common preoccupation, though: customer service. More often than not it is the quality of the service experience, not just the quality of the training or the meal, that brings customers back for more.

How can you improve your customer experience? In every professional services engagement there are multiple touchpoints with the client. Plenty of people have an opportunity to delight the customer, or alternately degrade their experience to the point that they never want to come back. I’ll talk about my old business - the restaurant business. In the restaurant business, a customer’s experience starts before she even sets foot in the door and doesn’t end until she’s left the parking lot. There are many points of contact before and after a diner enjoys the meal where a little extra effort can go a long way.

  • Arrival - As guests arrive at the restaurant, their initial impressions can color the whole experience. How hard was it to find the place? When you got there was it clean and attractive or outdated and sloppy? The old cliche is entirely true: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
  • Point of entry - The business can look great, but if the first person a client talks to is sullen, surly, or uninterested, then you already have one mark against a return customer. Having the best food in the world means nothing if customers don’t feel welcome to eat at your place.
  • Ordering - Greetings don’t stop at the door. Friendly and knowledgeable associates can actually be one of the biggest game changers in a dining experience. Having people who know your businesses’ offerings inside and out make a diner feel more comfortable taking advice when deciding what to eat. Having people who know what they don’t know and who to ask to find out prevents the kitchen being committed to making asparagus soup when there’s no asparagus to be had.
  • Preparing the Meal - As a chef I can say, without a doubt, the kitchen is where the magic happens. Having a great kitchen team almost always equals great food. The team can make anything they say they can and know when to push back. But they don’t just push back - they provide options and provide a good reason or two. Don’t say, “No,” say: “I’m sorry, the kitchen won’t be able to make the salad with raw pork you requested as that may be fatal. They could make a salad with grilled or sauteed pork instead.”
  • Quality Check - After the meal arrives at the table you always want to go back and make sure diners are happy. Did they like their meals? Were they happy with its preparation? Was there room for improvement? It is always important to correct any problems and address any concerns. Just because the first plate they got was not to their liking doesn’t mean someone went away hungry. Even if the diner decided to go with the raw pork salad against your recommendations.
  • After the Meal - Just because the table has been cleared and the bill has been presented doesn’t mean you’re done. This is your last chance to turn around an experience that may have gone bad, or make one that didn’t even better. Now is also a great opportunity to get feedback so you can make the customer’s next experience even better than the last.

In the restaurant business it wasn’t always easy to hit every single mark for every person who came through the door, but we would always try. Sometimes it could honestly be a struggle, but we always made the effort. And in an industry where word-of-mouth is an important part of building a client base, when you already have a great product, focusing on customer service is the best way to get that client to return for more. It’s a small world out there and rare is the person who eats only once. They might as well eat at your place.

This article was originally written for and posted on the blog.