Whats the Worst Choice You Can Make? Seriously…

I was recently reviewing a questionnaire for prospective employees. One of Company X’s strategies is provide a survey for each field of expertise for which they have a job posted. Instead of having a 200 item survey that they can decipher parts from, they have shorter forms more specified. I like the approach and told them so. One might find that even the most qualified applicant will score lower than accurate, especially on the last 50 questions, because they don’t apply or because of test fatigue, No one wins.

The items described a specific situation and asked which was the best way to accomplish the goal, or solve a problem. You are familiar with multiple choice tests? There is usually a right answer, a pair of close answers, and one you know is wrong, or a gimme the teacher throws at you to be funny. Technically speaking, as a teacher, that gimme, or obviously wrong answer, actually skews the validity of that question by unfairly directing the taker  toward the right answer and away from it. Its a marginal mistake, but it is one. I suggested to the company that they do what Lowe’s and other customer service minded companies have begun doing. Ask the candidate to identify the best and worst answer. In this way we are eliminating the worst answer as a distraction, and giving it value, as what not to do-intentionally.

This applies to real world situations as well. The best way to handle an irate customer may be to employ skill-set A. Skill sets B & C are not as effective choices, but is it clear to the professional that skill set D is NOT the way to handle it? This is as useful as knowing to pick A.

I was managing a Margaritaville-style deck bar. It was outdoors and there were always reggae bands playing. There were always mosquitos. We had bucket candles of citronella burning and the more ambient tiki torches as well. As much low light mood as they provided, they were oil lamps repelling pests, first and foremost. every now and then one bucket candle would go supernova. That is, the top layer of molten oil would ignite, not just the wick. The best answer – which had been modeled before – was to simply slide a small B&B plate over the top and quickly snuff the flame. The plates were heat rated porcelain, and it caused no scene. The bucket could then be taken by the handle and replaced with a fresh one, or at least a safe one. Option B would be to grab the handle while it was burning- possible but not nearly as recommended. What you NEVER do is what my server did. Throw a glass of water on it.

The kitchen staff would have known as much.  Knowing the best options makes you a well informed customer service professional. Knowing exactly what we are trying to prevent under any circumstances, makes you an invaluable one.

There are worse things I could dooooooooooo
There are worse things I could dooooooooooo

Individualized Service Still Follows a Standard Procedure

After reading Taking Cue From Ritz-Carlton’s Customer Service I wondered how many employees on the front lines can recall their customer’s names. While customer service ought to be standardized, the interaction between the service personnel and the client should be individual. This does not mean that a single service professional needs to lead their customer by the hand from start of the interaction to the finish. In fact, that is appropriate in only a very few settings. Concierge service like that is rarely what someone comes into a retail location for. Handing a customer off, by name, to a fellow professional who can meet their specific needs with their own specific talents or availability is preferable. Demonstrate to that helpful new associate that you have remembered the details of the request so the client isn’t repeating themselves. That’s not service, it’s passing the buck.

Individualized service means that the professional recognizes that need as a single task to be performed and solved. That same need may have been fulfilled a hundred times that day, literally in foodservice, but this time it is for this specific individual and it should be performed as if it is special for them. This may mean simply that we use their first name, mention a previous interaction, or ask if the usual order is again in order. Once the individuality is established, the standard procedures f for that order are followed. Individualized service following a standard procedure means that every customer will realistically expect to receive exactly what they want, or need and it will be easy to fulfill. More importantly, they will return because it is the trend.

During PGA tournaments and other special events- frankly if a convention nearby lets out- a service professional can have a full workspace all at once and for hours. It’s a hurricane  not a tornado.  The trick is not to fulfill thousands of requests. In fact it’s not a trick at all. The skill is to fulfill each request. Repeat that a thousand times. Behind the bar of course, it helps if you can go octopus.

Drunk Octopus

What else do you look for in Individualized Service?

Nature Vs. Nurture : What do you bring that can’t be taught anyway?

I was reading a blog about how Starbuck’s rates it’s most valuable asset, or something. It was in a lot of legalese. Either way, it addressed a very intriguing concept. The heart of their customer service is the ability of their barista’s to be a self-initiated learner. How can this requirement be judged in an interview? Especially when barista is an entry level position. If little or no job history is required, what then tells a company that a candidate holds this quality? Can this quality be taught?

It reminded me of one of my less admirable times behind the bar. I had held all the talents of a better-than-average bartender. In this brand new, multi-million dollar renovated PGA tour clubhouse, most of the new staff did not hold the same checklist of talents. Little did I know at the time, but quickly was I to learn, that it was actually to my detriment, since I was assuming that that was their shortcoming. In my first 90 day review I was told very succinctly that all the talents which I possessed  could be taught anyway. While they were valuable to our bottom line, they were far from the extent of the job’s requirements. There were also a list of co-workers snapping at my heels for my job. Just saying, I was replaceable. My greatest shortcoming at the time was patience with members (customers) and with “co-workers with less experience.” This is where I tie in to the previously mentioned blog.

In the interview, I was asked what had I done for my customer’s in the past that was not in the typical list of bartender skills, how had I gone beyond the call of duty. I explained that I had created a four star dining experience for regulars in a place that would only qualify for two. It was practically a joke, putting a tablecloth and a single candle on a bar high top for a first date a regular was having. But it worked well. I can’t account for the relationship. That showed a level of customer service that could not be taught. However, once on the job I was not displaying that skill. It was further explained to me that my managers could only model it, not teach it. I had better initiate the learning.

What is your CS Nature? What can be Nurtured?
What is your CS Nature? What can be Nurtured?

What is in your customer service nature, and what can be nurtured? I believe that a desire to satisfy a customer’s needs comes from intuition. Which cannot be taught, but it can be modeled. I don’t mean a 6th sense clairvoyance type of intuition. I mean the intuition that can tell when a look in your direction is preceding a request. The intuition that lets a professional know that when a server sticks a cherry in your Cosmo, it’s an opportunity to teach proper garnish, not the time to huff and puff and blow their house down. By the way, NEVER  let a drink leave the window without proper garnish. I’ll end that there.

Being a self-initiated learner, empowers you. It lets you know that you have autonomy and you’re not an automaton. I expect that my order will be taken in a timely manner, it will arrive similarly, and that my basic requests will be met. That’s the job description. Those skills can be nurtured. In what manner, how pleasantly, and hospitably these things are executed, depends first on a professional’s nature. These can be coached and modeled, but because they can’t be faked well, they can not be taught. It was my spiritual condition and my strength of character that led me to change my attitude, on a daily basis. Hint: my skills improved to a point that could not be taught as a result, because I wanted them to. If I can do it, so can you.

How Not to Get too Insulted

I recently read a great blog about getting Insulted. It took me back to my formal service days… less than 2 years ago. Here’s what I liked: As an ex-bartender It is important me to remember all the allies I had in the customer pool. My specific pool at my last career spot was made of millionaire members of a PGA golf course resort, who mostly lived on premise. The resort was partly run by an HOA. I knew who my allies were and who the fly-through tourists were. Even in the fly-through pool, there were plenty of allies. In the membership pool there were plenty of enemies, only they had to be assuaged even more, because they were members. There were also the type of person she described: the  hangers-on!

Hangers-on, Posers, Name-Dropping-No-Names, were the ones I loathed. They were customers, and deserving of all the service they paid for, and then some. What they weren’t deserving of was the treatment of  the royal courtiers they pretended to be. I had people show up and name drop just to get member’s discounts on the happy hour drafts they were already getting for cheap, comparatively. I had people name drop the owner of the resort all the time…”I guess I’ll just call Sheila (Johnson, the owner of Salamander Hospitality) and tell her what is going on.”

Ms. Johnson knew be by name, or at least had the decency to pretend to, because it’s good business, to seem approachable to her staff. She didn’t know and didn’t care to know, I perceived, every f’n whiney baby wanna-be who couldn’t get their way. Do you know how hard it is to NOT get your way in a resort that has 5-star service? The only reason there was no fifth star in the resort overall was because we preserved our original architecture in our guest suites and didn’t have elevators. Nothing was more than two stories. We had 24 hour Bellman. What the hell were you asking for that we couldn’t or wouldn’t do for you?! We would actually bring raw steaks from another restaurant in to cook them. We would hit the liquor room in Shipping and Receiving in the middle of the rush to get a single bottle of out of distribution liqueur we had stashed, in order to make the perfect Straga Wallbanger. I would increase my liquor cost to replace the expensive tequila you can only get in a handful of American bars, just in case a select few came by, we wouldn’t be out. What would you ask for we couldn’t do? I watched my manager produce a table and 5 chairs from the basement so corporate bigwigs could sit in an already full and backed up restaurant, right before the presentation of a PGA trophy. We did stuff.  I made half a dozen freshly squeezed margaritas during a convention’s media blitz, we were capable.

Maybe we wouldn’t do it. Here is the flipside of that coin. When a guest starts getting juvenile, stomping feet, calling names, holding there breath etc… We have the opportunity to enable or disable that behavior. Under some very limited circumstances, a customer is told no. They are told no when they finish their meals and then demand a refund. They are told no when they are already “overserved.” They are told no when they exhibit lies and manipulation to get around the standards. Standards exist against which to measure all other experiences . If you are substandard, the answer may be NO.

As far as judging my appearance?  I was wearing the uniform, and the approved grooming.

See? The Required Uniform and Grooming.
See? The Required Uniform and Grooming.