Service moments: How one person’s actions can damage your brand

Service moments: How one person’s actions can damage your brand

Sometimes businesses fall down in one or more service areas and lose their way on the path to being a service champion.

When it comes to service we must always look at the importance of:

  • Minimum and exceptional service standards
  • Shared behaviours and values
  • Regular training and reinforcement of standards
  • Monthly or regular awards for outstanding service
  • Encouragement and empowerment for staff to respond to service issues
  • Service process analysis – find and remove the blockages
  • Recruiting service people for positive service attitudes
  • Inviting staff to tell management of service blocks
  • Involved team leadership
  • Constructive feedback given and received
  • Strategies to invite customer feedback
  • Review of problems with changes implemented quickly and effectively
  • Learning about sensitivity, judgment and timing when serving

I’m overseas in and out of planes, hotels and restaurants, with a great chance to experience a range of service incidents that remind us of the critical checklist. Here are a few:


1. The rude driver in an overloaded shuttle bus


I left my lovely Chicago near-airport hotel at 5.30am when there was only a shuttle every 30 minutes during the dark hours! Lucky I was on time as there was a crowd to fit into the bus. A woman started banging on the glass doors as they closed. Whilst it was jam-packed, and many standing, there was room for one more.

Woman: I must catch this shuttle.

Driver: (voice raised to be heard through the glass) Too late. First come first served.

The driver drove off. I put myself in her shoes and felt awful.

Service issues: Rude man unaware of his poor interpersonal skills, clearly not trained or not trained well enough. But even more important is the fact that the hotel didn’t engage with guests to establish departure times, shuttle requirements, and adjust their schedule for any surges in numbers.


2. The inappropriate demand for feedback on food


I notice this one especially at business lunches or dinners, but I think it happens at social meals and this problem is on the rise. Often right in the middle of a serious conversation, or a hushed confidential exchange, or a fun story someone is telling, or an upsetting issue with serious consequences is being worked through… an over-exuberant waiter/waitress comes up and not sensing the people at the table would prefer to keep talking with each other, or keep listening to an amazing story – they BREAK IN! Sometimes they stand so close waiting you have to stop and acknowledge them, sometimes they actually interrupt and insist on asking if everything is OK, or “How is the food”.

Service issues: In this case I think the waiters are following a ‘service strategy’ where they are encouraged to visit the table and check everything is OK. But they have not been trained to SENSE when to break in, and in some cases IF they should even break in. What’s needed here is sensitivity training and the flexibility to decide that maybe on this occasion there’s no need to ask, or maybe to be trained to notice if someone is pushing aside a big chunk of meat or fish, as if inedible. OK, find the right time and step in.


3. Ridiculous, rigid restaurant rules


I prefer not to ‘check’ my jacket in a restaurant. I don’t like parting with it and hate having to strip the pockets of valuables, mobile phone, possibly my passport or cash reserves.

In one restaurant I said, “No I’m cold and prefer to leave it on.” That got me past the eager check-in person whom I understand is only trying to make a living through tips.

Once seated and starting to warm up, I took off my jacket and put it on the back of the chair. Instantly a head waiter rushed over and started removing my jacket to check it in. (Pockets full of my stuff).

Me: “No I want it here, I may get cold.

Waiter: “We will bring it back for you if needed.

Me: “No I want it to stay with me.

Waiter: “Sorry, it’s our policy.

So (we were already mid meal so leaving wasn’t an option) I put my arm through one arm of the jacket and left it at that stage and ate my meal like that, one jacketed arm, with now a line of waiters (yes a line) standing opposite our table staring.  

And as each person finished, one swooped in for the plate removal.  With the last plate, everything was removed, even place mats.

Then I noticed a nearby woman with a lovely light jacket arguing with another waiter – she had to take her jacket off the back of the chair and check it in! Then I started studying all tables and was amazed to hear another argument over the gigantic 1.5L bottle of mineral water:

Woman: “But I only wanted a glass of mineral water.

Waiter: “Sorry, it’s policy to serve a bottle.”

At another table a woman was looking alarmed as the waiter was clearing away the place mat from under her arms supporting her chin, and she was saying:

Woman: “Perhaps you could wait till we have paid and left before doing this.”

Waiter: “It’s our policy to clear everything away efficiently.”

The amazing thing here was the food was superb!

Service issues: The owner was rigid and strict to the point of insanity. The waiters were led like a military operation. The rules and standards were ruining a great meal at many levels. The waiters were unable to report and discuss the problems these rules were causing – a culture of disempowerment.


4. The horrible security officer and the wonderful stewardesses


I was rerouted when my direct flight from Boston to Chicago was cancelled due to a tornado in the area. However, some flights were getting in so I managed to find a way in via NYC, despite it being hours later.

When I boarded the full flight out of LaGuardia airport and sat in my seat, a man came up and politely said it was his seat. We both had the same seat numbers. He asked for assistance and they took our boarding passes away. I said to the stewardess I’ve come all the way from Australia to my meetings in Chicago, so I am not getting off this flight. She was lovely, polite, friendly and caring. She came back and asked for my passport. She then came and told me that, in fact, they had issued me with the wrong boarding pass, it was in the man’s name, but she was trying to resolve it. I wasn’t moving.

The pilot was in a rush to get the plane off to be able to land in a window of weather opportunity. The plane had by now filled up. A security officer boarded and started yelling at me so rudely I was shocked.

Him: “Get your bag – you are leaving this flight. I’ve got to get this plane off the ground.

Me: “There is no need to speak to me so rudely.”

Him: “Where did you get that boarding pass from?”

Me: “It’s what was issued to me at your counter.

Him: “Get all your luggage and get off this plane.”

I decided to deplane for fear of handcuffs and imprisonment. Luckily as I was slowly getting my bag out of the overhead compartment, one person, probably fearful of the storms, didn’t board or got off, and suddenly I was allowed to stay. Then the whole flight the cabin crew were caring, apologetic, offering me wine, food, etc (which I didn’t want). And then we had an aborted landing, finally coming in to the roughest, longest, fastest landing I have ever experienced with wind sheer, shaking, sideways movement and bracing (well I braced and kept thinking ‘I should have got off with the security guy!’)

Service issues: The threat of terrorism and the stresses of flight schedules have perhaps pushed some staff to focus more on outcomes of safety and timeliness than caring about customers. But I think again, this is a training issue. There are ways to be assertive without being aggressive.

If your role is in service, no matter what level, make a point of sharing with your team and managers all issues that block good service. Find ways to innovate, make the path to fixing problems easy and quick. Sadly, just one person’s bad actions can spoil it for the team and the company.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.


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