Are You There Customer? It’s Me, Service.
by Jim Sullivan
Gosh, it’s been awhile since we spoke, Customer. How the heck have you been? First of all, I’m really sorry I lost track of you there for awhile. I guess I was so busy figuring out how to have you do my job for me that I kinda forgot what I was supposed to be doing for you. And now I’m wondering if you could help me remember. Oh, and maybe stop by more often, now that the economy seems to be a little stronger than it was and all.
I really can’t say enough about how much I appreciate all the work you and your fellow customers have done on my behalf these past ten years. You’re the best. Busing your own tables, getting your own sodas, coming to the host stand when I buzz you, booking your own flights, swiping your own credit cards, self-checking out, afraid to complain about mediocre meals at the tables of celebrity chefs, ordering your own dinners online, at kiosks, takeout or drive-thrus, wading through automated answering options when you call our office, never complaining when the food was just meh, making your own reservations, bagging your own groceries, going to the bartender for another beer when the server was AWOL, and leaving detailed Interactive Voice Response feedback at our 1-800 line, app or website in exchange for a chance to win a free 90-cent appetizer (our cost, silly, not yours).
And man, hasn’t this technology thing been great? If Social Media was any hotter, it would have to be rolled in a tortilla. Since the Digital Age took hold, you’ve helped me and my cousin Marketing out a lot by making commercials for us, checking in at Foursquare (we hope that you’ll all be Mayors someday), proactively telling your friends to eat here so you can “Daily Deal” your meal, and an especially big shout out for taking all that time—your time–to “fan” us on Facebook. You’re the best, really. (Though maybe you could tone down all the yelling on Yelp, grousing at Google, and Tweeting about trouble you had with us.) But hey—those are really just small tradeoffs for all the time you’ve saved me from having to actually figure out ways to better serve you. And that extra time frees me up to concentrate on the more important elements of Service…things like, uh, well, um…thinking of more efficient ways for you to serve yourself. After all, that’s saved me gobs of labor dollars and—U-S-A, U-S-A–business productivity in North America’s service companies have markedly improved the last decade. Even if the secret to that new-found productivity is well, you.
Wait, wait, don’t go yet.
I felt a little guilty at first. I mean, I’ve always been the kind of guy that worked hard to make you feel good. But then our owner explained that it would save us both a lot of time if we decided exactly the kind of experience you want to have, instead of asking you what you wanted. We know how busy you are after all, and who knows our business better than us?! This is so much better than the old days when I actually had to figure out what you wanted and then try to serve you better than the competition. Service, as it turns out, is pretty hard to do and when the beankeepers said my worth couldn’t be measured anyway, I got kinda depressed. Many a day I just left work thinking “If those dang customers would just leave me alone I could do my job!” But then I realized that no one missed those lengthy, b-o-r-i-n-g manager meetings (and training sessions) focused on me; reviewing the complaints, assigning blame and then having to contact you to resolve it when you got upset. I guess we could have just tried instead to improve our systems and people to make sure you had no reason to complain in the first place, but hey, it’s a lot quicker to ask forgiveness and throw a free dessert coupon your way. And that’s when we hit on the idea of bringing my little bro Self-Serve into the business. Customers can’t complain about the service if they’re doing most of it, am I right?!
But then you up and changed. You got more demanding. And picky. We weren’t sure what to do.
And dang, who should come into the meeting right then and save the day but Marketing! He suggested we forget better hospitality and offer 99¢ burgers and three-for-one meal deals instead. And he was right! When I asked how we’d show customer appreciation if we downplayed hospitality, he stood up and said “Three words: Frequent Diner Programs!” and everybody applauded his modern-thinking. And sure enough, you went for it…for a while anyway…until my absence made the whole price-value experience seem emptier than a Kanye West apology in a Taylor Swift chatroom. Turns out you like friendly people that smile and care and know the menu and don’t turn their eyes down and thank the register when they take your money. C’mon—and I say this with all due respect–would you please make up your minds?
I’ve been around a long, long time—Grandpa Service started in the business–and I know it’s difficult for operators to get excited about me. I’m not the sexiest of Fundamentals. Heck, I practically make Food Safety look like George Clooney. And I’m also quite aware that I’ll never get a restaurateur’s attention the way Marketing does—not to mention his exotic new foreign girlfriend Social Media (Ooh la la!). But still, I know a lot of you must miss me, so I wonder—and I’m just thinking out loud here–What if operators were to bump my stature and elevate me to the same importance that food safety has in their restaurants? What then might I become? How much would our business grow if we gave you more full service in a self-serve world? What if we built the experience more around the customer as much as we do around the product? Would you stop by more often? I’m thinking you would, but I’m not sure our owners believe it anymore. Would our teams also get better and stay longer if we served them as well as we served you?
Just asking, cuz in the headlong rush to master the Next New Thing, I’ve got this nagging feeling that operators may be ignoring the Most Important Old One. Thank you Customer!
You can follow Jim Sullivan on Twitter @Sullivision. Get his free iPhone/Google Play app called QuoteZilla, and monthly Fundamentals e-newsletter here at www.sullivision.com