Why We Still Get Bad Customer Service
In their 1993 book, Raving Fans, Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles published what they labeled a “revolutionary approach to customer service.” Yet, almost twenty-five years later, many organizations still struggle to offer acceptable customer service. In this article, I explore two different service experiences I had with the same company and attempt to shed some light on why we still receive poor customer service.
Service Experience #1
Recently, a friend and I went to lunch at a restaurant that has over 2,000 locations. When we arrived, we were greeted by a friendly hostess. A few seconds later, we were seated and looking through the menu. Shortly after that, a server arrived at our table and asked us how our day was going. After a bit of small talk, he took our order.
Our order was complicated. We ordered an appetizer, with some specifics as to what we wanted. We also made special requests to each of our meals. Something stuck out to us as we ordered . . . our server was not writing anything down. Would he remember our order? Would he get it wrong? We were interested to see what would happen.
Our appetizer and meals arrived in a timely manner, adequately spaced from one another, and made exactly as we requested. Our drinks were refilled before they were empty, always without asking our server. During our visit, one of the assistant managers came to talk to us. He asked about our food, our server, and the hostess. We were happy to report that it had been a fantastic dining experience. Later, my friend and I joked that the manager probably just came to chat with us because of the flyer on the table. The flyer stated that if a manager did not visit your table during your meal, you would receive a ten-dollar gift card for your next visit. We were later proven wrong when the same manager returned to our table to check on us again.
We left the restaurant blown away by the happy attitude of the hostess, our fast and efficient server, and a friendly manager who seemed to genuinely care that we were having a great time.
When we returned to the restaurant a week later, we received another surprise. Usually, when your server makes their first approach to your table, they ask what you would like to drink. As we had the same server from the week prior, he actually remembered us and on his first stop at our table brought us the drinks we ordered the week before.
Service Experience #2
Fast forward a few months. The same friend and I got together for lunch at the same restaurant, but a different location.
We arrived at the front kiosk and waited for a hostess to finish sending a text before seating us. We waited several minutes for our server to arrive and take our order. We likewise had to stop this server later to ask him for refills . . . and silverware . . . and napkins. When my friend and I finished our meal, we waited several more minutes for our bill. While waiting, we conversed about how the manager had never come to visit us, as the flyer on our table had promised.
When the server delivered our bill, we commented to him that according to the flyer, we were entitled to a ten-dollar gift card. He walked away looking frustrated. A few minutes later, the manager appeared. We wondered what he would say to redeem himself. Rather than offering an explanation, the manager walked over, handed us the gift card, and said, “Here ya go,” then walked away. The gift card was only valid for that same location.
We never used it.
Experience #1 vs. Experience #2
My friend and I had visited one business, but different locations. Yet, each location offered dramatically different customer service experiences. Behavioral science helps us understand why this dichotomy took place. Three forces either support your efforts in stellar guest service interactions or create sub-par buying transactions.
Intrapersonal. The first force actually happens within you as a service provider. There are two major elements to this source. First, you must have the drive to offer great service to a client by choosing to go beyond what is expected. Second, you must have the necessary skills to offer a great experience for a buyer. I call this the skill to thrill. Motivation without the skill to thrill can still lead to lackluster service experiences.
As we compare the two servers, it appears that they were equally motivated. While the second server was slower to deliver each of the items necessary for our meal, I do not believe the problem was a lack of motivation. It was more likely a skill issue. Either he was not properly trained on how to service a table, or he has not been serving long enough that he has become really good at it.
Interpersonal. The second force has to do with the social surrounding of the organization where you as a service provider work. You must work in an atmosphere where giving great service is expected and respected. All employees need to know that it is important and encourage peers to do their part as well.
Going back to the comparison of the two servers—it was easy for the first server to offer exceptional service because everyone else around him was doing it too. The hostess was nice and friendly, and even the manager made more than the single required visit to our table to see how we were doing. In the case of the first location, I believe the attitude of service started with that manager who visited our table, then cascaded down to his employees, and eventually to us. I believe the second server was trying and really wanted to be successful. However, he did not stand a chance when no one else around him supported the concept of a nice service interaction.
Extrapersonal. This force is everything outside of you as a person—the things around you that affect your decisions and attitude. Consider various outside forces that may alter how you perform at work. Things like measurements, performance reviews, and rewards (monetary or recognition). Other items that make up the extrapersonal force include the physical space where you work, the tools that you use to be successful, and the processes and procedures that are set in place to support client transactions.
Our first server was working the bar as well as the bar table where we were seated. This put him in close proximity to the computer to take our order, the drink machine to get us fast refills, and near the kitchen to deliver our order in a timely fashion. Additionally, being seated at a bar table allowed him to easily make eye contact with us. The second server was further from the computer, drink machine, and kitchen, slowing his response time. We also observed that the silverware and napkins were not prepared for him to be readily accessible. Therefore, whatever gap existed in the process for the preparation of the utensils also affected our service experience.
THE BIG REVEAL
Each of the three forces described above; Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Extrapersonal, has an impact on every customer service experience. When these three areas are misaligned or under-utilized, customers receive mediocre service and in the end, the organization suffers. However, when these three forces are properly aligned and combined, organizations become exponentially more effective in delivering positive customer service experiences, growing their customer family, increasing bottom-line results.