Steve Curtin on Managing Extraordinary Customer Service

Curtin,Steve.jpgThe following is a guest post from Steve Curtin, author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary.

“But I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

Last year I met with Zane, a manager of a fast-casual restaurant. During our conversation, he shared some of the recurring challenges he faces in trying to raise the level of service at his restaurant.

One frustration he disclosed was the inability of his staff (with the exception of one or two “superstars”) to consistently provide exceptional customer service. According to Zane, when he challenges employees to “try a little harder” to provide exceptional customer service, the majority reply, “But I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

This response is quite telling and, I believe, holds the key to whether or not customer service quality will improve at his restaurant.

The above employee lament highlights the mandatory nature of job function (i.e., the duties or tasks associated with one’s job role) that is expected by customers and required of employees; that which employees are supposed to do. Absent from this remark is anything that is unexpected and voluntary—that which employees choose to do. I refer to this as job essence, employees’ highest priority at work. And for most service industry employees, the essence of their jobs is to create delighted customers.

I’ve observed that, while most employees consistently execute the mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary job essence for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. This explains why you and I almost always receive the deli sandwich we ordered but may not always receive it with a smile, eye contact, and enthusiasm in the deli employee’s voice. Assuming customers pay for it, deli employees must provide the sandwich ordered. Smiles, eye contact, and enthusiasm in their voice, however, are clearly voluntary.

The reason that Zane is challenged by staff who consistently deliver hot food hot and cold food cold (job function) but inconsistently express genuine interest in customers or convey authentic enthusiasm in serving them (job essence) is because most operations (and the supervisors who oversee them) focus predominantly on job functions and the efficiencies associated with them in order to reduce costs and increase profits.

In Zane’s restaurant, it’s not uncommon for employees to receive feedback on and be held accountable to menu knowledge, following procedure, completing their sidework, and other job functions. And it’s unlikely that a day will go by that he doesn’t scrutinize operational metrics associated with job function: average check, food costs, inventories, productivity, profitability, etc.

That’s what managers do, right?

I told Zane that I understand the importance of job function. (Really, I do. You can’t run a business without it. And you can’t provide exceptional customer service without it. No guest at his restaurant wants an undercooked entrée delivered with a smile.) But job function is only half an employee’s job. The other half, job essence—which is often neglected by employees and managers alike—is missing in most customer service interactions with employees that customers would describe as routine, uneventful, and transactional.

Managers must remind their employees daily through modeling, feedback, and other forms of communication, that excellence lies not in what’s expected and required (what they’re supposed to do) but in what’s unexpected and voluntary (what they choose to do), such as anticipating needs, paying attention to detail, displaying a sense of urgency, and following-up.

Jacket image, Delight Your Customers by Steve CurtinAnd therein lies a key truth: Whether in Zane’s restaurant or your place of business, exceptional customer service is always voluntary.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.)

Steve Curtin spent 20 years with Marriott International. He now runs his own customer service consulting firm, Steve Curtin, Customer Enthusiast!  Check out his book trailer here.

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