Customer Service Week (Oct. 3-7) is approaching and, since I work in the field, I suppose I should contribute to the conversation. Let me begin by saying that celebrating the customer is a good thing—especially when you consider that, without customers, there wouldn’t be much else to celebrate.
The issue that I have with Customer Service Week is that, to me, it places a superficial focus on customers for one week in October that quickly returns to business as usual the following week as the balloons droop, the banners sag, and the promotional swag is relegated to desk drawers. Wouldn’t it be better to run your business as if every week was Customer Service Week?
In my consulting work, I can tell a lot about how consistently customer-focused a business is just by observing any one of these four areas: employee locker rooms and/or break rooms, public restrooms, designated employee smoking areas, and designated employee parking areas.
Many employee locker rooms are filthy in comparison to areas that customers can access. Why the discrepancy? And many employee break rooms—where employees go to reenergize for the remainder of their shift—are nondescript, sterile, and dispiriting. Why the disparity between the areas enjoyed by customers and those intended for employees? Many companies trumpet the importance of serving their “internal customers” and some even subscribe to the mantra: The customer comes second; our employees come first! Show me the condition of your employee locker room and/or break room and I’ll tell you your overall employee engagement score—and whether or not your employees come first.
Public restrooms at many businesses are largely an afterthought. It’s common to see neglect in the form of pooled water on countertops, bad odors, empty toilet tissue, paper towel, and hand soap dispensers, loose toilet seats, etc. If you and I would never permit these oversights when hosting guests in our own homes, then why is it acceptable to subject customers to these conditions in a public restroom? There are, of course, exceptions: I’ve noticed that when my lunch costs $10, the quality of the public restroom is often sketchy, but when lunch costs $50, the restroom is immaculate. Now, I understand that it costs more to maintain ice in the base of the urinals (801 Chophouse), burn scented candles (The White Chocolate Grill), and supply grapefruit-scented hand soap to patrons (The Capital Grille). The challenge to businesses is to acknowledge that it costs no more to keep Formica countertops dry than it does granite countertops. It costs no more to tighten a premium Bath Royale toilet seat than a less expensive toilet seat from American Standard. And it costs no more to stock 2-ply toilet tissue than 4-ply toilet tissue. Show me the condition of your public restrooms and I’ll tell you your overall customer satisfaction score.
I regularly walk past employees who are smoking near the main entrances to stores. Not only is this an eyesore, it is disrespectful to customers. A management team that’s willing to establish and enforce standards can avoid this blunder. I’m no prude. I’ve smoked cigars on golf courses and inside cigar bars. My objective is not to judge smokers. My motivation is to hold company leadership accountable for the environment they’re creating for customers. It always confounds me when employers permit their employees to smoke someplace where non-smoking customers have to pass through employees’ second-hand smoke in order to spend their money. If employees are permitted to smoke on the premises, it should not be evident to customers—by sight or smell. It’s simply incompatible with creating a welcoming reception and positive first impression for customers. Show me where employees are permitted to smoke and I’ll tell you your overall customer satisfaction score.
The other day, I noticed an Old Chicago restaurant employee who parked in one of the prime parking spaces in the first row of the parking lot. I knew she was an employee because she began tying her apron as she walked from her car toward the restaurant. My family and I have been to this particular location a number of times. It’s quite popular, so I regularly drop my family off and then hunt for an available parking space deep in the lot. Perhaps the employee I observed violated the employee parking policy by parking in an area designated for customers? Or there may be no distinction between where employees and customers are expected to park. If that’s the case, and Old Chicago leadership is indifferent about whether or not customers have to walk past employees’ vehicles on their way into the restaurant, then that sends a subtle message to employees that it’s permissible to inconvenience guests. And that sentiment may begin to affect customer treatment inside the restaurant. Show me where in the lot employees are permitted to park and I’ll tell you your overall customer satisfaction score.
So you want to prepare your staff to deliver exceptional customer service? Banners and balloons may get your team through Customer Service Week, but addressing employee locker rooms and/or break rooms, public restrooms, designated employee smoking and parking areas will improve your customers’ experience for the remaining 51 weeks of the year.
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Illustration by Aaron McKissen.