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Comment: Empathy & charisma key to service

Sarah Jacotine, October 17th, 2016

I want to talk about something we all complain about, rather a lot. 

It’s something that every bar, café and restaurant stresses time and time again that it is deeply committed to. And it’s something that, if absent, is enough to put you off returning to a venue — or turn to TripAdvisor. Of course, I’m talking about customer service.

Bad customer service can obviously be detrimental to a business. We’ve all heard the saying about happy customers telling a couple of their friends about their great experience but unhappy customers regaling a dozen others — who then pass the message on.

Word of mouth can be powerful and criticisms tend to stick in people’s minds for a lot longer than positive comments.

So, in hospitality, what’s considered bad service? It’s all subjective of course, depending on our standards and perhaps what part of the hospitality industry we belong to.

You’re more likely to cut a server some slack if you understand how a situation might be making it harder for them to do their job, for instance — but on the other hand, if you know what should be getting done or said, you’re going to be a little less willing to overlook failings.

In my opinion, bad customer service in is long wait times, lack of attention and intuition, and zero empathy or understanding. I’d also argue that as customer service is all about rapport and building a relationship, a lack of charisma and/or humour is a problem, albeit not a real cause for complaint. In this region in particular, I’ve noticed something of a robot mentality.

If the management is not of a high enough calibre or the owners don’t know what they’re doing, managers are unlikely to be empowered to run the business, which manifests itself as rigid training that can sadly hamper their staff members’ ability to interact effectively with guests. All too often we see servers ‘sticking to the script’ and not diverting at all for fear of getting in trouble.

So, what’s the answer? More training? I’d suggest gaining experience in different environments (and countries ideally) would be a step in the right direction. Also, trusting managers to encourage their team to go ‘off script’ and develop their intuition is worth thinking about, not to mention properly developing the basic people skills everyone in customer facing positions ought to have.

Outlets spend a great deal on PR and marketing but if that investment was made in improving customer service, their guests can do the PR for them.