Are you the fish?

Imagine you sit down in a restaurant with someone special – – your partner, a major client or a good friend. You order beef, your guest orders barramundi. A short while later the waiter arrives with the main course and says to your guest, “Are you the fish?”. Your guest responds, “No, but I did order the barramundi!”

Even though the above exchange may be a slight exaggeration, it does highlight the importance of customer service and it does act as an analogy for the variety in levels of customer service that exist. As managers, we would be embarrassed if we knew that one of our customers had been given the “Are you the fish?” treatment. So what lessons can we learn and apply? What makes great waiters and what makes great customer service personal?

The first thing is attitude. If a person doesn’t want to be there in the front line of customer service then don’t put them there. Some personality types just don’t want to serve others, no matter how much you pay them or cajole them.

Customer service cannot be just a job title – – it has to be a core value within an individual. In other words, it is the default position an individual takes when dealing with others in business. It isn’t necessarily a subservient position but rather the application of that person’s expertise for the benefit of the other person or entity. Oh, and by the way, the bonus is that you get paid to do it!

In many parts of Europe, waiters are considered to be professionals who attract the appropriate remuneration and respect. The better ones are much sought after and can make or break a restaurant. It is a career they have chosen and can stay in it for many years of their life.

By contrast, in the USA it appears that a waiter has to rely on tips to earn a decent wage. It suggests that the incentive to provide good customer service is driven by a monetary reward rather than professional pride.

In many instances the frontline customer service staff we expect to provide the first and best impression of our organisation are often the most poorly paid and, all too often, the least trained. We expect them to interpret the inner workings of many customers’ minds who don’t really understand themselves what they are after. They probably start off in their position all enthusiastic and wanting to do the right thing. It is just that good customer service needs more than just a good attitude.

The second thing required in providing exemplary customer service is sound product knowledge. Continuing with the waiter analogy, he or she is able to interpret the menu for you in simple words. He or she is able to recommend the appropriate wine or cheese and you feel special in the knowledge that some with greater knowledge than you has shared it with you. You are able to make informed decisions about your menu choices and the whole dining experience.

In our industry, the overwhelming majority of work we produce, with the exception of corporate stationery, is “made to order”. It is not unusual for clients to come to us with an idea and trust us to listen to them and then make it happen. The better customer service practitioners are able to walk the client through the print ordering process by meeting the client at their level of understanding. In such cases the customer experience is one of confidence and self satisfaction borne from someone taking the time to respect their needs.

In cases of exemplary customer service the client may feel empowered and flattered that they have negotiated what may have been a tricky and technical transaction.

The customer service interaction is not an opportunity to show off your knowledge by using as much jargon as you can. Nor is it the time to frighten your client with what impediments there could be when they ask for a delivery time. The client is looking for comfort and confidence in your responses, just like you do when you are a client.

Remember that feeling you had when you visited the motor mechanic for a tune-up and he/she said, “Brake cables? Could last five minutes, could last five years”.

Attitude and product knowledge are great pointers to having a great customer service experience in both the printing and hospitality industries.

Believe me, it pays to know the difference between a truffle and a trifle!

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