When will we learn who pays our salaries and wages?


May 27, 2014

Customer Service has been a hot button for as long as I can remember. Most organizations say they give the best customer service, when in fact, they do not. The reasons are that the powers that be are too often too removed from the actual customer to see what is actually going on in their businesses.


This past weekend I had to travel for a family event. As a result, I ate or tried to eat at three different restaurants and received three different levels of service—one close to excellent, one mediocre, one terrible.


Friday night my wife and I visited the O’Charley’s in Harrisonburg, VA. Except for one minor issue the experience was wonderful. We were ushered to our table immediately. Our waitress appeared quickly, took our drink orders with a smile and friendliness that made us feel welcome. We ordered our meal, which was a shrimp dish that was well prepared and hit the spot, and delivered rather quickly. The only hiccup to the experience was that the soft drink I received had too much ice, which happens almost always in a restaurant, and needed refilling less than midway through the meal. They were a little slow in recognizing this, but not significantly long. The rest of the experience was excellent with all encounters extremely friendly, smiling and appearing as if they enjoyed what they were doing.


Saturday night my wife and I went to the Ruby Tuesday’s next door to the restaurant we dined at the night before. The visit started off well, being greeted and seated quickly. The waitress, who was very friendly, appeared after a short wait and took our orders, which included alcoholic drinks. The restaurant had a lot of employees running around, cleaning tables as we came in at the end of the dinner rush; however our waitress seemed to disappear. In fact we waited over seven minutes for the drinks to be delivered. I truly believe that the only reason we got the drinks then was that I stared at the many employees standing behind the counter talking, etc., when one noticed my watching and then approached. The meals were ok; however I generally love Ruby Tuesday’s hamburgers. Unfortunately this one was a little dryer than I usually receive from Ruby Tuesday’s. The rest of the visit was ok, with the waitress redeeming herself by noticing the sun glaring into my wife’s eyes and adjusting the blinds to accommodate her. Total experience was mediocre at best.


Driving home on Sunday, we stopped at a Subway in Oxford, NC near our home for a pick up order to take and eat when we arrived home. By the way, we have gotten food here before, however lack of focus on customers was not as apparent as it was this time. We entered and the only customers in the store were seated, eating. The employee behind the counter walked to the back as we entered and we could hear him talking with a woman that I believed was his manager, no one paying attention to the people, us, waiting to order food. After an extended period of time, probably a minute or so, definitely a noticeable wait for someone prepared to pay the employee’s wages, we were approached. First order of business was to choose the bread type and the meal; I placed my order and went to the men’s room, while my wife waited for our food. The restroom was filthy. The sink looked as if it had not been cleaned in days. Strike 2. I returned and saw the sandwiches had not been prepared yet, as the employee was frantically looking for the wheat bread that I ordered. They had none prepared. To me, this is like McDonald’s running out of French fries. Strike 3. Finally the woman, who I assumed was the manager came out and did not assist except to respond that wheat bread would be ready in about five minutes; I decided to make a sandwich when I got home and declined to order a substitute. As my wife’s order was prepared I watched as the woman began to clean, ignoring the customers that entered after we came in. Strike 4.


When are those that service going to understand that the only reason they exist is to take care of the customers. The customers pay their wages. In this day of almost everyone being time challenged, the one thing customers want is to get in and out as quickly as possible. If the customers quit coming due to poor or mediocre service, the income to pay wages disappears, employees are given less hours, layoffs happen and unemployment goes up.


There are many reasons for less than desirable customer service. Expense of payroll, apathy, lack of focus, lack of training and consistent training on customer service come to mind. In my many years as a manager at many levels I was continuously concerned with our customer service efforts. I embraced customer service as something I wanted my stores to stand for, preached it, had many discussions with store and multi-store managers about it, read about it and worked hard to deliver my vision of customer service. In fact, my teams won customer service awards in the various organizations that I worked. I remember once that a CEO of Service Merchandise, the company I worked for at the time, came up to me at a meeting after I won an award for customer service and asking why my team was so good at customer service. I told him that I taught all my managers how much an average customer was worth X dollars during a year and if we treated them the way they wanted to be treated, they could be our customers for 40 years.


Do the math—X dollars per year, multiplied 40 years is what that customer is worth to your business. Every customer that comes into your store represents that number and that number is what pays your salary.