The true test of great customer service is not how nice your staff is. The true test of great customer service is what you and your staff do when things go wrong.
When Margaret Fox owned Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino, she trained her staff to solve the customer’s problem at the table. It was more than just training. It was empowering. To correct a less-than-ideal experience, or even because the customer took so much delight in the dish, the staff could comp a dish or a bottle of wine, or the whole meal if they thought it was appropriate. Word-of-mouth reputation works both ways. It is much less expensive to prevent a bad reputation than to correct it once it has spread.
Many small business owners fear giving employees this authority. They feel the need to be in control of any financial commitments made for the business. This is a good instinct in general, but misplaced in the case of creating great customer service. You want to leave the customer feeling like they had a great experience regardless of any problems that occurred. The cost of a bottle of wine or a free dish is trivial; the effects of a bad experience can be enormous.
Danny Myers, in his recent book Setting the Table, has a whole chapter titled “The Road to Success is Paved with Mistakes Well Handled.” He looks at problems and mistakes not just as something to be fixed, but as opportunities to turn the problem into a truly exceptional experience for the customer. He calls it “writing a great last chapter.”Clearly there is a lot more to great customer service than just creatively solving customer problems, but I believe that there is a very high correlation between organizations that do so well and those that succeed.
By the way, the book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Myers is a book about his experiences in the restaurant business. But it is also a fabulous management book for anyone in any business that deals with the public. It is a must-read for anyone concerned with great customer service.