Don’t Chicken Out on Communicating Customer Service
By Mark Alison
I enjoyed seeing comedian Dennis Miller live in Chicago last month. One of his funny lines was, “You know there is a problem with the education system when you realize that out of the 3 Rs only one begins with an ‘R’.”
I’d like to add, in a not so funny way, that communication begins with ‘C.’ And by that I mean the CEO, CFO, COO, all of the ‘C’ suite. It is their top-down responsibility to communicate the value of a customer throughout the entire service network so everyone speaks with the same voice – service to customer being the primary consideration.
For the purpose of not pointing fingers, I will refer to the following “chicken” restaurants as “A” and “B.” You’ve probably driven through chicken restaurant “A.” It’s not uncommon to see a line of cars around the building. But you know, when you get in restaurant “A”s line that it will move swiftly. They even have workers walking up to the cars and taking orders. I clocked four minutes from order placement to fulfillment the other day at restaurant “A” and I was initially halfway around the other side of the building.
Compare that against the Cajun chicken restaurant “B” line I sat in Sunday afternoon. I was one of only three cars in line and the wait was over 12 minutes, three times longer than restaurant “A.” Had there been an open lane I would have pulled off. When I finally did get my order, there was no apology for the lengthy time, just a snappy request for $9.17 and a bag of food shoved in my window.
What is the difference? I would say “A” cares about the customer experience while “B” cares about selling chicken. And I have to assume that the difference starts at the top because every “A” and “B” I have visited has handled the drive-thru the same.
Both places sell a great product. Both promote, and both have good prices. Marketing is doing its job covering the three ‘P’s. What’s missing is the ‘C’, “communication” from the top down regarding how to treat a customer.
Here’s my suggestion to restaurant “B’s” management.
1.Communicate the value of a “customer” strongly to the people who are taking and fulfilling orders.
2.Empower them to hand out a free soda when the wait time exceeds “X” minutes and remind them to tell the waiting customer that it is taking an extra minute to get them a fresh, hot product.
3.Tell them to take a moment to be gracious when completing the experience.
4.Set up a reward system for repeat business so the employee benefits from a customer’s return. In other words, reward the behavior you are trying to encourage.
So what about your business? “Oh, we are not fast-food,” you say. Then you missed the point. Communicating with your employees who directly interact with customers so they understand the customer value is just as important whether you operate a plumbing company or run a law office. The person answering your phone can be winning or losing business.
While in Chicago I stayed at an iconic hotel in the South Loop. Check-in was painful. My card was immediately debited for one night; $50 per day was added in case I did use hotel services and it would not be refunded for a week after I checked out. A room with any view was additional cost. The valet fee was mandatory. All this and I am an honors member!
As it turned out the room smelled like cigars, a light bulb was out and the TV remote didn’t work. This is not the clerk’s or maid’s fault. It is the management’s fault.
Their communication was bottom-line driven and these people are just acting it out. Crappy service begins with crappy management. (Just so you’ll know not to stay there, it was the Chicago Hilton.)
Communication is more than a set of standards. It is teaching by example. It was Emerson who said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
Communicating customer care starts at the top.
When we work with customers who interact directly with the public we ask how they manage the customer experience. We want to be sure that all of our marketing efforts are not lost at the point of sale by a less than well connected and properly motivated employee.
Mark Alison is a marketing and business consultant who works for the Alison South Marketing Company. 706-724 3758.