5 Customer Service Mandatory Minimums

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In our world today, choosing just about any string of words can get sticky fast, and “customer service” is no exception. It’s problematic, doesn’t mean the same thing to people, and probably doesn’t calibrate to the standards I think of when I say it. Maybe “service excellence” or “hospitality” or “guest service” are all better words… except, no one still will agree on what all of those expressions mean, either.

So, whatever you might call it – I call it customer service because it gets the point across. We can keep workshopping the phrase as we go. How does that sound?  

From 15+ years in the “service” industry, I can tell you one thing: your customers can spot quality experiences from a mile away. Just like tasting all the things, articulating what’s right or wrong about the service interaction might take time and practice, but your guests have very accurate gut reactions to good and poor service.

Almost everyone can immediately think of a time when they’ve had excellent service, and a time when they’ve had terrible service. First a wave of positivity washes over them: warm and lovely feels of a great night out, a new toy purchased, clothes that fit just so, and personalized attention. Then, the sad cold and lonely world of poor service sets in: frustrated and chilling feels from re-imagining a night gone wrong, returns rejected, people unable or unwilling to solve the problem.

I call myself a customer service snob. It’s kind of a bummer, because it’s pretty hard to find places that often get all the points of service right. In fact, it’s almost impossible. And this is even with the deep, sympathetic knowledge that delivering great service is really, really hard. Because service isn’t about a list of how-tos, or a standard process. Each interaction with a customer is different, and so the process of consistently Getting it Right can be quite a challenge.

And to that point, I will add: customer service is a skill set. It is not magic. It is not the simple instruction “Be nice” – that will consistently fail you. There are plenty of resources at this point on how to Be Nice About It – and if you are a service professional, you should review them, and then practice them.

If you don’t believe me on this, try a simple exercise. Go out in the world and make an effort to say “hello” and “goodbye” to everyone you interact with. Pay attention to the ones that you miss. Did you say thank you at the appropriate time? This might sound silly – but our number one desire when we are customers is to be acknowledged and tended to. How well do we rise to the challenge when we’re the greeting provider? I think you’ll see that it’s harder than it seems, and it takes practice to make it genuine and pleasant for those you interact with.

That said, there are some pretty straightforward standards, that are just that – standards. Or maybe I should say baseline measurements. As in, if these things aren’t done, I’m not staying in your space. If these aren’t done, this is where your team needs to focus its practice. Here they are:


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1.       Offer an inviting atmosphere. That can mean many things, and it will depend on your specific venue. General rules: keep it clean, make it easy to understand where to go, organize the space, and give people the ability to hear. Areas to really focus on include places with heavy customer foot traffic (condiment bars, restrooms), and places within customer lines of sight (staff, please don’t eat or drink where I can see you!).


2.       Have your staff share a warm welcome. I swear I’ve read 4,000 customer service articles, books, and more, they all say the same thing – have your staff say hello. And yet, in my experience, it’s still a rarity. So make sure staff say hello, before they get on to the business of anything else. They set the tone for the rest of the interaction. One person should not be responsible for this greeting – anyone and everyone in your space should offer a warm welcome.

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3.       Provide items that satisfy your customer. So… this means, not you (necessarily). Does your customer want what you want, or what you’re trying to offer them? Are you sure? A good way to check is if they buy it. But that’s not always enough. Another good check is to ask them. Listen carefully. Even if they’re being polite, if you’re lucky you’ll find some gems of constructive criticism.

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4.        Let the work day be pleasant. When employees are unhappy, it shows. Keeping the team’s mood in a good place more than just a handy thing to do. It’s good for business. Employees need to treat coworkers and guests with respect, fairness, and support. Managers should be fair, honest, and constructive. No one should be forced to have fun – fun should be a natural outcome of a well-run and hospitable environment.


5.       The final nut to crack is that service element: the ongoing personal interaction between staff and guests. It’s a tricky thing, but this is what I can’t stress enough: In coffee, we are not even close to a high level of service interaction. So what can we do? We need to experiment, and practice. Ask these questions: how can staff interact with guests beyond a counter-service ordering process? How can you personalize the experience for guests? What, in this space, would make it easier to be a customer? How can we delight our guests?

So, are you a service snob? What have your best and worst experiences gone? What was the best place you learned about customer service? If you have any insights to offer, please share!

Anne Nylander3 Comments