When I heard of Maya Angelou’s passing this summer a twinge of sadness struck me, but then I remembered one of the remarkable things that she said: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The simple brilliance of that statement is lost to so many people, especially those of us who are in the service business. What ever happened to making your customers—your guests—feel genuinely great about their experience with you?
In the restaurant business, the individual tastes of a person are subjective and vary so much that not everyone will think your food is brilliant. But everyone likes attention and wants to feel like they genuinely matter. This goes beyond the standards of good service as drummed in to the heads of servers in corporate restaurants. In today’s competitive industry, those that understand the importance of making others feel good will win big time. It is not enough to provide good mechanical service, operators need to actively engage with our customers as human beings that really matter to you.
At the end of the day, businesses in the service industry are defined by the people who work there. Here are some simple rules restaurant owners can follow to ensure that service remains alive and well:
Rule No. 1: Make instilling the value of human interaction in service a priority with your employees. This is especially important for your young employees just getting started in the service industry. Unfortunately, the age of social media has disengaged many young people even further. They can’t get their faces out of their screens and actually interact with other human beings. They would rather Tweet or text than talk.
It's not uncommon to see a young counter person who spews out the corporate welcome like R2D2 in robotic fashion. They never smile, make eye contact, or make an attempt to be engaged with the customer. They exist in their own little world and it seems that they are only working here because they have to. How does that make the customer feel? Don’t forget the importance of hiring people with a personality and teach them the value of using that to deliver exceptional service.
Rule No. 2: Practice what you preach. For great service to truly be instilled in your company, it has to come from the top down. That means treating your employees well and leading by example. My offices are directly in Times Square in the center of New York City. Needless to say I have a half a dozen Starbucks locations within walking distance of my office, but I will avoid the stores closest to me and walk a few extra blocks to a location where the woman in charge makes every single person of the thousands who walk through that store feel like they are the only person in the place. She pays attention to the person and engages every guest with a smile. Her attitude is infectious and extends to the rest of the employees in her store. You walk out of there feeling great every morning and don’t forget that.
Rule No. 3: Remember that small gestures can make a big difference. Sticking with Starbucks, one of my best quick-serve experiences was at Union Station in Washington, D.C. For a while, I was a weekly traveler to the nation’s capital with a brutal schedule that had me walking into the empty station at 5:30 a.m. in order to get to New York City on the first Acela of the day. One morning as I stood dejectedly outside the gates covering the entryway to Starbucks, which didn’t open until 6:00 a.m., I could see the crew working to get set up. A young woman looked out through the gates at me and a couple of other groggy travelers and mouthed, “What can I get for you?” I replied that the train left at 6:10 a.m. and it would be too late. She and another employee worked to pull together the orders and at 5:50 a.m. flung open the gates with smiles and flourish. She made each of us feel very special, and years later, I have never forgotten.
Many of my peers believe that service as a profession is dead. I agree to a certain degree that there is far less professionalism but it really comes down to consideration, manners, social skills, engagement, caring, and much more. More warm conversations with a real person rather than communication through an electronic device might sharpen those skills.
Talk to people, make eye contact and smile. Pay attention and truly care about them and your profession and not only will you make your customers feel good, you will too.