July 27, 2010

Can I make it special for you?

Last week I had dinner with some friends who shared a recent customer service experience with me. As a big proponent of quality customer service, I am always interested in hearing success stories. I like hearing about situations where service people have been educated, prepared, and empowered to deliver outstanding experiences. Their story demonstrated two different sides of what quality service looks like.

My friends were at a nice island resort. One morning they decided to eat breakfast in one of the resort restaurants. They asked for oatmeal as part of their healthy diet. Their waitress didn’t think they offered it but decided to ask her manager for verification. The manager, hearing the request, quickly answered, and offered what he thought was a helpful answer. “No, we don’t serve oatmeal here. However, it is available at the restaurant across the street. Is there anything else we can get for you?” He did not offer any alternatives. My friends decided to stay anyway, and for future reference, went to see what was on the buffet line. Halfway down the line, they saw a sign that said “Hot Oatmeal” sitting in front of a large hot bowl of the same. Wondering why the staff and manager didn’t know it was there, they mentioned it to the manager. He replied simply “Really? I didn’t know we had it.” My friends ate their meal, including the oatmeal, and left.

The next morning, they decided to try the restaurant across the street. Even though their request was eventually met at the first restaurant, the oatmeal wasn’t very good. They hoped the new place would offer not only more informed service but also better oatmeal. They were greeted on the way in by the manager. They immediately asked if this restaurant served oatmeal. The manager said that no they didn’t but the restaurant across the street did, and that she would be happy to send someone over to pick some up. My friends declined while sharing their experience from the previous day. Hearing this, the manager stated that she could also have her chef make some just for them. My friends said sure and received a batch of hot oatmeal cooked just the way they liked it. They were so impressed, they returned to this restaurant every day for the rest of their trip. Each morning, there was a batch of fresh oatmeal waiting for them. On the last day, as they left for the plane, the manager raced out to hug them goodbye. An experience to remember. In fact, they did, with me.

Listening to this story started me thinking of my own business and people. The following key questions came to mind.

1) Do my people know what my product offerings are?

2) Do they know how to get answers to special requests?

3) Are they checking out the “buffet line” and staying up-to-date on new offerings?

4) Are they, and do they know that they are, empowered to make on-the-spot decisions to accommodate reasonable customer requests?

5) Are my manager’s leading the way?

How do you answer these questions? Which “restaurant” are you?

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