Is Personal Customer Service Still Relevant?

By Altitude Advisory |

It’s fair to say that 2020 has presented huge challenges for all of us. Business lockdowns, social distancing, working from home, travel restrictions, sporting and leisure shutdowns together with limitations on simple activities such as family gatherings has without a doubt changed the way we all behave and interact as communities. Director, Andrew Mattner goes into the importance of customer service and the success of your business. 

Aside from the obvious challenges to business and employees due to COVID-19 restrictions it is the unspoken or underground shift in the consumption habits and behaviour of consumers that has piqued my curiosity over recent months.

Understanding how people’s habits have changed and determining if it is a temporary or permanent shift creates significant challenges for business owners as they review and reset their strategies moving into 2021. One of the key trends we have seen is the significant spike in online shopping and stay at home consumption, not just in discretionary consumer goods sector but in consumer staples such as food and dining. My opinion is that whilst we will return to some semblance of pre-COVID-19 behaviour (people are a naturally social species and enjoy community interaction), a new normal will exist with the online trend and home deliveries remaining strong. So, what does this mean for all the businesses that have traditionally relied on foot traffic into their stores, their bars and their cafes and restaurants?

My view is that the only way that these businesses will ultimately survive in what is a diminishing market, will be to increase their standard of customer services to an extreme level. Let me share a recent experience I had…

I was returning to Adelaide from visiting clients in one of our regional offices. After a near 2 hours’ drive, I was about 15 minutes from arriving at home. My wife was out for dinner with some work colleagues and I had a call from my 14-year-old daughter. She explained that her sister and her didn’t really want what we had planned to eat for dinner and asked if they could have takeaway. After a 14-hour day that was like music to my ears (as the last thing I wanted to do was cook) so under instruction, I pulled into a KFC that was on my way home. Seeing a line-up of 30 cars for the drive-through I made the fatal error of deciding to enter the front door. Here is the next 15 minutes of my experience.

When I entered, I observed that the front of house was completely different to the drive-through and kitchen area. Clearly, they were very busy out the back whilst at the front there was the junior on the front counter, what I determined to be a mid-level young man (let’s call him Hugo) and what I think was the shift supervisor (let’s call her Caroline). Those 3 were there to serve me and one other customer who had already ordered and was waiting to collect her meal. My experience started ok with the polite young junior taking my order. There were a couple of challenges with the clarity of my request but nothing to worry about. Hugo was standing behind the counter wiping down desserts and applying stickers one by one before placing them in a fridge whilst Caroline stood to the side observing.

The junior then proceeded to collate my meal order when a somewhat dishevelled gent walked in and ordered a large chips with NO salt. This gentleman expressed quite clearly on multiple occasions that he would like his chips with NO salt, both to the junior assistant and to Hugo. After about 5 minutes and no progress on the preparation of my order or the chips with NO salt, another gentleman walked in to place an order. He had limited English speaking ability and as such the junior assistant had a difficult time understanding what he wanted to order. As such he started to show her what he wanted on his phone. All the while Hugo kept wiping his desserts and Caroline kept a keen eye. Meanwhile my half-prepared take-away order sat on the bench unattended.

Here’s where things began to really go pear shaped. Hugo, clearly upset by the lack of understanding about the “phone order” started to bark instruction at the junior and get frustrated at the gent on his phone. “Just be clear with your order mate”, he snorted. At around the same time a fresh cook of chips was prepared and was generously applied with a liberal serving of salt, much to the dismay of the dishevelled gent. “Please NO salt” he again asked, becoming frustrated. His repeated request was clearly outside of standard guidelines as Hugo barked at him, that is the way we do it here. When the dishevelled gent asked Hugo to tell the kitchen that he did not want salt, he unfortunately copped both barrels with 2 comments that emphasised that salt goes on everything and that the kitchen does not prepare custom orders….?

All the while, Caroline calmly observed whilst my half-prepared order sat growing ever colder on the bench having not been touched for 5 minutes. It was then that I observed the car that originally marked the back of the drive-through line when I arrived, departing with their Friday night dinner.

The heavily salted chips were finally dispatched after Caroline finally established that the junior could not cope with taking and collating 2 orders and that Hugo had no interest in doing anything other than wiping down his chocolate mousse containers and placing them in the fridge. My order was next to follow and as I waited, I asked the team behind the counter if they would like any feedback on how they might improve their customer service. Hugo, my observed exemplar of customer service was quick to bite with an abrupt “What are you talking about, what’s wrong with our customer service?”. As I started to provide my feedback on the salted chip incident, he leant on the counter, puffed his chest and what can only be described as an attempt to intimidate, told me that I had no idea what I was talking about. I thanked him for his feedback and turned and left, NEVER to return!!!! All the while, Caroline maintained her role as an interested spectator.

I think we can all see what that team at KFC could have done to create a memorable customer experience for good reasons, had a few simple behaviours been developed into this team:

  • Be respectful
  • Promptly attend to a customer request
  • Use your manners
  • Accommodate a specialised customer order, or at least work with them to accommodate a compromise
  • Find a way to solve a problem
  • Be a good teammate
  • Always look for ways to assist
  • Understand that everyone has a role to play
  • Do the most important tasks first
  • Be gracious in accepting feedback, even if you do not agree with it

In diminishing markets with increasing competition, when customer experience is critical to your success or potential demise, you need to ask if your team is going to rise to the occasion or are, they going to be found wanting?

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