Building a Better Team

- In the first of a series of articles, David Lipton discusses how to train staff to become customer service specialists

By David Lipton
February 2000, Foodservice and Hospitality

It was once said that any business is only as good as the people in it. That sentiment is especially true in today's competitive Canadian marketplace, where U.S.companies with premier customer service techniques continue to infiltrate every sector of the economy, including the foodservice industry. But while it's also true that Canadian companies must learn to match U.S. customer focused training procedures and effectively teach and maintain staff to provide top notch service, outstanding customer service is difficult to duplicate, making it one element that still distinguishes a successful business from the crowd.

It's also been proven that businesses that treat both customers and employees well are more successful, with numerous studies confirming that staff treats customers the way management treats them. In other words, happy employees equal good customer service and increased revenue. Joel Ward, a business teacher for Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., agrees. "Businesses should do everything to satisfy their customers and employees.Operators have to ask themselves what type of company they are trying to build - a money machine or a legacy company," he says. "Building a legacy company collaborates what best meets the needs of everyone involved: the company, employees and customers."

As chairman of Burlington, Ont. based SIR Corp., Grey Sisson heads some of the most customer focused restaurant chains in Canada. According to Sisson, customers expect outgoing and enthusiastic service. "Effective customer service is an important part of the total experience," he says. "It's the service, food, quality and value that help make up the whole package. It's important for customers to be recognized, acknowledged and attended to in a pleasant and friendly manner in order for them to feel the complete dining experience. Nothing upsets customers more than a server who lacks personality."

But what happens when companies hire enthusiastic staff, train them to be outstanding customer relations people, then fail to follow up the training with some type of monitoring program? Many companies spend millions of dollars on training and nothing changes, especially as studies indicate that 60 percent of the information discussed during a training sessions is forgotten before employees leave the class, and an additional 30 percent is forgotten within the first week. Without reinforcement and monitoring for compliance, employees quickly revert to their habitual ways of completing their job tasks. The assumption is made that the information was great, but there is no mechanism in place for employees to integrate the knowledge into their daily routine. In reality, however, developing a new behaviour takes three to four weeks of continuous reinforcement and focus.

One way companies can help their employees focus on becoming customer service specialists is through mystery shopping programs. Unlike consultants, who offer advice on running a business, mystery shoppers evaluate a company based on the business' own standards and criteria in order to tell the owners whether or not it is operating in the manner they desire. They are also effective in uncovering whether or not the policies and procedures developed by an organization are in place and are being followed correctly. A variety of methods can be used to evaluate an operation, including site inspections, telephone calls, visits to websites and e-mail communication evaluations.
According to a recent Statistics Canada study entitled Creating the capacity for Survival and Growth, four out of five new companies in Canada fold within the first 10 years. Those that do survive stress high quality products, customer focus and solid business fundamentals as key to their success. In addition, superior customer service and flexibility in responding to customer needs, as well as marketing strategies focusing on satisfying existing customers, are just as important as price. These winning companies also cite skilled and motivated employees as equally important to the success of the business as skilled and motivated management. As a result, more than half of the successful firms that participated in the study invested in upgrading employee skills.ail communication evaluations.
According to a recent Statistics Canada study entitled Creating the capacity for Survival and Growth, four out of five new companies in Canada fold within the first 10 years. Those that do survive stress high quality products, customer focus and solid business fundamentals as key to their success. In addition, superior customer service and flexibility in responding to customer needs, as well as marketing strategies focusing on satisfying existing customers, are just as important as price. These winning companies also cite skilled and motivated employees as equally important to the success of the business as skilled and motivated management. As a result, more than half of the successful firms that participated in the study invested in upgrading employee skills.

Canadian companies should view this sort of information as a wake up call to improve their methods of hiring, training and maintaining employee enthusiasm. After all, it will be the winning companies - the ones which continue to offer a competitive price, good products and high quality customer service - that will outlast their competitors for years to come.

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