Don’t forget to smile: Benefits of Excellent Customer Service, and How to Give it

Customer service remains one of the most important things in the foodservice industry. No matter how high the quality of food is, poor customer service can ruin the customer's experience. While it may sound like a truism to say that excellent customer service is essential, it is critical for restaurants and cafes to get it right from the start—customer service can make or break a new startup. Great customer service starts at the top—both ensuring that each employee understands company values and that managers and owners are displaying said values, too. Leadership is essential, and employees will often act according to their superiors.

The benefits of excellent customer service include a more motivated and self-confident employee, leading to decreased turnover rates, higher profits, a richer customer experience with more consumer loyalty, an enhanced brand image, and a distinct advantage over the competition. On the other side of the coin, giving great customer service is something that is equal parts taught and fostered. The main ways to ensure that customer service is exceptional are focussing on the return of customers, not return on investment, consistency, nourishing a caring culture and instilling positivity and fun as core parts of the business, on-going education and training, and most importantly, leadership.

Excellent customer service doesn't just make foodservice better for consumers—employees benefit, too. An employee that has created a connection with customers, and provided them with a high level of service, has done their job effectively. Not only will the pure satisfaction of pleasing a customer be there for the server, but the job satisfaction gained from good work is something that everyone wants. With happy employees, comes a decreased rate of staff turnover. With less staff turnover comes not only a closer bond amongst longstanding staff members but increased experience on the roster, as well as less stress for the owners who have to hire and train new people. This leads to the next benefit of good customer service, higher profits. With less staff turnover comes reduced costs in training programs all the while bringing in return customers who are willing to support service they are pleased with. As the saying goes, "Come for the food, stay for the service."

Modern dining is not just about food. The prevalence of social media and the desire for perfectly plated meals, a beautiful dining space, and equally pleasing service means that dining nowadays encapsulates the whole experience. Ensuring that waitstaff are providing a rich experience for the consumer is imperative. Excellent customer service breeds enjoyable customer experience, therefore increasing the likeliness of repeat business. As a business owner, focussing on the return of customer is equally important as return on investment. Finally, providing exemplary customer service enhances the brand image as well as giving a competitive edge. A brand that is known for its quality service is a brand that consumers want to support. Happy customers spread the word, and satisfied customers are formed through exceptional service. Additionally, if there are five cafes close by that have similar prices, provide similar meals, are close enough in terms of proximity, the cafe with the best service will win. It can take one small instance of kindness to ensure that a customer will return, while inversely, one mistake, or one lapse of judgment, and a customer can be deterred forever.

How, then, can great customer service be guaranteed? Consistency is key. Consistency can mean ensuring that all staff are trained equally and behave similarly, as well as meaning that customer expectations are consistently exceeded. Every restaurant or cafe will have their busy days when perhaps the employees are rushing and are finding it harder to provide the best possible service, but this is when it is most important to go above and beyond the call of duty. If a cafe is busy, but customers are still provided with impeccable service, there is little to fault. Rushes happen, and if diners are willing to wait a little longer but are wooed with charming service, the overall experience has been positive. To ensure that employees are responding to these sorts of factors like busyness, mistakes, etc., it is important to remember that growing attentive employees starts from the beginning—through training. On top of that, restaurants must be able to provide an environment that encourages and nurtures good service. Through training, employees should be able to understand what is expected of them, what the brand stands for, and how they can exceed expectations. Another crucial element of training is teaching menu/product knowledge. As an example, in fine dining establishments, guests will ask about wine pairings; this is something that each employee should be trained on so that they have a basic knowledge of how to answer topical questions. Making sure that waitstaff can efficiently and thoroughly guide the customer through the whole dining process comes through educational training and a safe environment where employees feel comfortable and willing to do their best. Through creating a work environment that encourages good customer service, job satisfaction is increased for employees, the job is done at a higher level, customers are increasingly satisfied, and more profit can be made.

Training is a great tool to start employees off with initially, but to ensure that excellent customer service is maintained, businesses need to be able to self-evaluate themselves and retrain/develop skills regularly. This can come in the form of additional training programs, as well as listening to feedback and making changes accordingly.

Customer service has the opportunity to define an establishment. Making sure that staff are happy, trained well, have a clear understanding of their expectations, and are encouraged to give the best service possible will guarantee an increase in revenue as well as an enhanced brand image. But this doesn't happen by chance, leading from the front and ensuring that employees are satisfied and consistent starts with proper management. Being able to reevaluate the restaurant's position amongst the market, and find out ways to improve again and again means that customer loyalty will continue to increase. There are very few downsides to investing in developing and improving staff members, why offer anything but the best?