Personalize Customer Service

A professional restaurant critic in a major U.S. city shares views on how restaurants can elevate service.

I doubt there are many restaurant owners who would say that customer service is not a priority for them. And yet, my experience is that most of them are focusing on the wrong things.

I’m not talking about politeness. “The customer is always right” isn’t even true, and is far less important than true customer service. What do I mean by true service? I mean figuring out what a customer needs from your business, and trying to give her that thing. It sounds so simple, so obvious. But it’s pathetically rare.

The good news: It makes exemplary service all the more obvious and appreciated. Some of the common customer service failures I encounter regularly may not be what you’d expect.

Let’s start at the beginning—not the moment customers walk in your door (we’ll get to that)—but the moment they begin to interact with your establishment. Most likely this will happen when they call you or visit your website.

If they were to call, would they get a person on the phone, or a recorded message? How easy would it be for them to get through to an actual person?

It’s a fairly recent phenomenon, but getting through to a restaurant is now sometimes just as difficult and frustrating as trying to call a bank or cable company. Too often, rather than a live person, you get a message that dictates hours, address, and directs people to the web for other information. If you’d like to make a reservation, leave a message. This is true during business and non-business hours—many restaurants never personally answer their phones at all.

I understand that 80 percent of your calls are to ask for hours and directions, but why not give those things personally rather than rely on a message? Isn’t the entire basis of your business personal interaction? If nothing else, failing to make a personal connection is a lost opportunity to start the customer service relationship in a positive manner. And what of the other 20 percent, the folks who are calling to see if you can accommodate an unusual request or who want to know what your specials are that evening? If you don’t answer the phone, that business is probably going elsewhere—where there’s a person customers can speak with.


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