About Me

My photo

William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Customer service is how you operate your business.

Most of this week, I’ve been having conversations with people about customer service. Ok, this week it’s been more like debates about what service is and how to treat customers. You see, there seems to be a group of people who think that customer service is all about giving customers free stuff. That’s it, just giving them free stuff.

As if customers really walk out of a store and say, “Honey! You wouldn’t believe the service I just received! They gave me a 10% discount – that’s amazing service!” This isn’t service. It’s pricing. There is NO service going on here at all.

Giving amazing service is about listening to your customers, paying attention to how they behave and what they want, then enacting that as well as communicating it to them. My wife went into our local big box bookstore this week to complete an exchange. She didn’t have a receipt, just the unread book given to her as a gift. It costs the bookstore absolutely nothing for this transaction. Zero. Nevertheless, she needed to fill out forms and answer questions. Why? So that the store felt comfortable that they weren’t being ripped off. The unintended consequence is that store is actually saying they naturally distrust their customers. This is a bad process, clearly showing how tied service is to operations.

If you are in the business of dealing with people, how you interact with them and move them through their experiences with you needs to be viewed as service. This became crystal clear tonight when I took the kids to McDonald's.

Anyone who has been to a newly renovated McDonald's can appreciate the time invested in designing a restaurant that is attractive for both senior and junior clientele. New colours, patterns, and textures scream out, “This is not the fast food restaurant of the 1980’s.” For this they should be congratulated.

But which architectural genius forgot to include a proper queue system? You see, at these new McDonald's, people randomly gather en masse in front of the order counter without any indication of how to line up. Is it one line per cashier? One common line up? Really, it is just a mass of people constructing their own ‘line’ waiting for the next cashier to yell out, ‘I can help the next person in line!”

This is not nuclear physics. We are not splitting atoms.

Yet without an established structure that serves customers through the wait, the order, and the pickup, McDonald's has created disservice. That’s right. Customers stand around confused, bumping into each other, not knowing when to advance or how to pick up their food. The basic food service delivery system fails to acknowledge how customers behave and what they need. At a quick service restaurant, no one wants to feel stupid or awkward. Do the basic operations of your business help customers connect with you or create disharmony?

Service isn’t about the free-bees. It is about listening, paying attention, and doing things that help the customer. Period. If your operations are poorly organized or poorly executed, your service suffers and the relationship you have with your customers break down.