Having begun my working career in retail stores and in a restaurant, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to receive training in retail sales and customer service. And in recruitment, it has been my observation that people with that sort of background offer more to their employer. My theory is that people with restaurant experience are more tuned into what their boss’ and coworkers’ needs may be—either through specified training or through dealing with the demands of the job, they have developed more empathy, and this makes them much better candidates as executive assistants, salespeople, group managers, or in any job where it’s important to work with people. I’d like to share some observations I made just last week at a small, trendy restaurant in Shibuya, and demonstrate the importance of well-trained customer service staff.
Having skipped lunch and with some time to spare before meeting up with a friend, I decided to get a late lunch at a café/restaurant I’d been to some months ago. Decorated in art deco fashion, with soft jazz music playing, it would be a nice place to relax for an hour. Or so I thought.
I waited a minute for a group of customers to pay their bill and leave the restaurant before I entered. On walking inside, the waiter who greeted me informed me that there were no available tables. That raised a red flag. Surely he must have seen the other customers leaving?
Lesson A: Pay attention to your whole work environment, not just your immediate task. See the big picture.
Knowing that the waiter must not know seating was available, I asked how long I would have to wait for a table. That surprised him: he seemed to expect that I would simply leave to look for a new restaurant. He replied that he didn’t know. This was red flag #2. By simply saying “I don’t know”, he communicated his desire to Not accommodate me, the customer.
Lesson B: Customer service is about finding solutions to customers’ needs. No business can afford to turn customers away before offering possible solutions.
I repeated myself, asking how long I would have to wait. This time the waiter thought to check another section of the restaurant and found that there was indeed a table available. He sat me and left me with the menus and after several minutes I made my decision and waited for the waiter’s attention. He never returned to my table, and though he passed nearby several times he never looked in my direction. After another few minutes I finally managed to wave down a different waiter. This was red flag #3. A waiter’s job is to wait on customers, not to ignore them. A customer should not wait very long and should never have to hunt for a waiter.
Lesson C: Check back with your customers early, and check back often throughout the service period to make sure their needs are being met.
On ordering from the new waiter, I was informed that the items I wanted were not yet available! He explained that the restaurant’s full dinner service began at 5:00 (it was now only 4:40), and so he directed me to the section of the menu where the available items were. Red flag #4. The first waiter would have known this, but why not tell me this when he gave me the menus? All-in-all, he was Very unhelpful.
Lesson D: As a customer service representative, you are providing information to your customer that will help their purchasing decision. This is the very nature of sales, resulting in customer satisfaction and Very importantly: repeat business.
The end result? I looked over the available menu items and decided not to order anything, and instead went to another restaurant. Reviewing the four lessons above, I was A) made to feel unwelcome, B) not made to feel accommodated, C) not being attended to and D) not informed what my available choices were.
If those four conditions were the opposite, I probably would have stayed and enjoyed everything that was available, but in the end, the lack of quality customer service is what lost that restaurant a customer. These lessons apply to every business out there, including yours. I hope you can apply them to your own work-life.