How sweary chefs, innuendo-fuelled bakers and exasperated hoteliers guarantee great customer service

Most businesses nowadays at least pay lip service to the importance of customer service. Yet many customers remain dissatisfied.

Astute businesses pick up on that sentiment and try to do something about it. And that’s where the problem starts…

Don’t mistake activity for making improvements

One of my favourite Ronald Reagan quips is “Don’t just do something, Stand there!” It always reminds me that we shouldn’t mistake activity for making improvements. Sometimes “doing something” is worse than doing nothing at all.

And in the pursuit of great customer service, there are nearly always better, simpler and more cost-effective ways of making improvements than introducing new procedures. (In fact I’d argue that I’ve never seen a new formalised procedure, beyond a threshold level, adding any value from a customer’s perspective at all.)

It’s not just new procedures for your customer service reps, of course. Especially in our busy, tech-centred world, it’s tempting to think whatever problem we’ve got, customer service or otherwise, can be addressed by introducing more technology…a revamp for the website, allowing online purchases, optimising for mobile or getting that Shopify store up and running.

Too many businesses think improving service is only about revising their procedures or implementing new technology. Almost nobody spends time thinking about what they should stop doing to improve customer service.

But if you’re serious about creating a world-class customer experience for customers, your first question…to real customers, not a software vendor or consulting firm…should be “what specifically do we do now that irritates or annoys you?”.

Then, whatever they say, stop doing that as quickly as you can unless there’s some legal reason you can’t. And here I mean a real legal reason, not the sort of thing people say when they don’t want to do something. If in doubt, ask to see the precise clause in an Act of Parliament that stops you, Unless someone can show you that, just politely press on regardless.

Of course, you should always seek appropriate professional advice if there’s any doubt, but even where laws and regulations do exist, they’re usually far less all-encompassing than people inside your business, or external parties with an angle to push, like software vendors and consultants, would have you believe.

And in a sense it shouldn’t be too surprising that you can improve customer service by taking things away.

Sweary chefs, bawdy bakers and exasperated hoteliers…

Watch just about any Gordon Ramsay programme when he works to turn around an under-performing restaurant. Part of his turnaround plan is nearly always paring down a hugely ambitious menu with 77 different choices across 8 different styles of cuisine into a dozen or fewer meal options.

Seemingly overnight, the business becomes easier to run, quality tends to be better, service happens as it should and customers leave at the end of the evening, well-fed and happy, intending to recommend the revamped restaurant to all their friends.

Same for The Great British Bake Off. Hugely talented people try to squeeze too much into their recipes and crash out the competition on a weekly basis. A simpler approach would have produced something they could be proud of, not a “soggy bottom” with the standard of decorative icing a 4 year-old might have been ashamed to bring in for “cake day” at their primary school.

And you see it in just about any edition of my favourite reality show… “The Hotel Inspector”. You can really sense Alex Polizzi’s intense frustration as, for seemingly the umpteenth time, she summons every last ounce of her sorely-tested patience to explain to a hotel owner that their extensive Lego collection has no place in the hotel bar, or that having their pet lizards running free around the hotel might be putting guests off a little, or that “tasteful” Victorian prints shouldn’t be hanging up in a motel tacked onto the motorway services.

What’s fascinating is that all these would-be hoteliers say the same thing… “none of our guests have ever complained about our Lego (or lizards or whatever) so we thought people liked them”.

That’s not completely untrue. If you want to run your hotel as a specialist retreat for lizard-fanciers, there might well be a good business in that. But don’t expect to become the world’s largest hotel group with a lizard-friendly approach to overnight accommodation.

But it’s also true that while few guests have complained, the hotel owner never asked them either. They just presumed that “no complaints” meant “good news”.

It might be astonishing to all these would-be restauranteurs, bakers and hoteliers that their personal eccentricities might not be valued quite as highly valued by their target market as they do, but hopefully it’s not news to you.

So before you try to improve your customer service by adding in more things, have a really good think about what you’re already doing and see if you can remove elements that annoy, irritate or frustrate your customers first.

Your business will be easier to run, your running costs will be lower and your customers will be happier.

The hidden knack to great customer relationships

But there’s a hidden knack to this.

Normally people like me, Finance Directors and CFOs, are happy to do fewer things because they quickly work out if you fire half the call centre then the wage bill halves as well. Usually, not doing things is a popular choice for a red pen-wielding Finance Director or CFO.

However life isn’t as simple as they teach you at bookkeeping school.

Although our sweary chefs, innuendo-fuelled bakers and exasperated hoteliers do cut down the menu choices and remove hotel owners’ personal garbage from their guest rooms, that’s only to get the business to “ground zero”.

It’s what they do next that is the ultimate secret of their success.

Yes, they do fewer things. But they do them so much better than they used to.

Instead of frozen steaks of questionable provenance, Gordon Ramsay brings in fresh, grass-fed Aberdeen Angus steak from an artisan butcher at perhaps twice the price of the restaurant’s more dubious historic choices. Sometimes the prices go up a bit too, but as the value to the customer increases exponentially, even after the price increase, they’re happy to pay the new prices.

Out go elaborate moulds for the finishing touches on a Bake Off cake, but much more effort goes into getting the taste of the icing absolutely perfect which is then just simply piped onto the cake.

Alex Polizzi gets rid of all the pet lizards, but she also does a stylish refurbishment of a previously tatty bar to attract guests and locals alike. They’re now happy to spend their hard-earned cash at the hotel bar in a way they weren’t before.

Building a reputation for great customer service is hard.

In the short term, you can make dramatic improvements in service just by cutting out all the things that annoy or frustrate your customers. To really cement the relationship, you take what’s left and dramatically improve the quality of your solution so that customers see a massive benefit from dealing with your organisation.

Do that well, and you’ll be a world-class service provider in no time at all.

And don’t just take my word for it…sweary chefs, innuendo-filled baking programmes and exasperated hoteliers find this everywhere they go. So you will too.

What could your business stop doing today that would make your customers happier? Ask them…their answers might surprise you…