Customer Service is Never Out of Date – or Out of Place

Epiphany at the Gas Pump

Regular readers of this blog know of my borderline fanaticism in the area of Guest Services related to ChurchWorld. Some leaders cringe at those words, but the fact is people who come to church are consumers, and leaders in ChurchWorld can learn a lot from good customer service practices wherever they find them – even in a 1946 training manual for Gulf Dealers.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I was asked the question, “Where does your passion for Guest Experiences come from?”

The answer to that question became a little clearer in the last week.

My father.

My father passed away in 2012, and recent changes in my mother’s health required that she move out of the house in which she and my father had started their family in 1954. Over the last week, as my brother and I were going through the process of moving her from her home of 61 years, I took great delight in looking through some of the items my dad had saved and stored over his life. When I found this manual pictured below, I knew it would become a special part of my Guest Services resources.

After my father was discharged from the Army Air Corps following WWII, he worked at several jobs before he and his brotherGulf Service Plan 1 built a Gulf Service Station outside of Nashville TN. My father operated it for 44 years, closing it when he retired in 1993. Growing up in that gas station (literally – our house was about 100 feet away) I learned a lot about how to deal with people by watching my father interact with his “customers.” What I didn’t realize until recently was that his natural, easygoing style was augmented by customer service training materials supplied by the Gulf Oil Company.

It seems that good service is never out of date.

Notice the red dotted line around the vehicle – that’s the suggested travel path for the service man – or two – to take when a customer pulled up to the gas pumps to have gasoline put into his tank (I realize many readers have no clue nor experience of this, but it did happen!). Starting by engaging the driver, here are a few of the suggestions for engaging the customer:

  • Always be prompt – the service plan starts when you see a customer driving into your station. Whenever possible, be alert and at his side when his car stops, ready to greet him.
  • Greet the customer – your greeting is your first important step in showing courtesy to the customer, and it should be friendly, cheerful, and always in your own words.
  • Acknowledge the other customer – when a second car drives in, you should immediately recognize the other customer and saying you’ll be right with him. This kind of greeting pays off because you not only please the customer who is waiting but you also please the customer you are waiting on, who notices that you are courteous to others.
  • Improve the rear view – while you are at the rear of the vehicle putting gas in, wipe the rear window and tail lights. Should a light be out, call it to the attention to your customer at the proper time.
  • Look at those tires – while you are back there, take a look at both rear tires for cuts, blisters under inflation, etc. and make a mental note to tell your customer before he leaves your station.
  • Work to the front end – walk around the right side, cleaning the right windshield, checking the wiper blades, and inspecting the front tires.
  • Under the hood – check the oil and water levels; it’s your responsibility to protect your customer’s car. If any is needed, ask him if you may bring the levels up to the correct level.
  • Keep alert under the hood – while you have the hood open, keep alert for other service needs. Train yourself to quickly observe all needs, informing the customer as appropriate.
  • Collect for the sale – it is important to give the customer the right change, so count the change back into his hand. If he is using a credit card (yes, they had those in 1946!), learn to fill out the invoice quickly and accurately.
  • Courtesy is pleasant – before your customer leaves the station thank him and ask him to come in again. By this time you should have learned his name, so make it personal.
  • Help him safely on his way – if your station is on a busy street where it’s difficult to get into traffic, give your customer a hand. Guide him into the moving traffic safely. He may not expect this added courtesy, but he’ll be glad to get it and remember it. Every courteous act will be appreciated by your customers, and make them regular patrons of your station.

And a closing reminder:

With the Gulf Service Plan, every time you do some little service for the customer, it makes him realize that you know your business, and that you’re looking after his welfare. These services keep your customer coming back again and again. Good will – the tendency of the motorist to return to a place where he has been well-treated – is being created every time you give him not only what he wants, but what he needs. He remembers you are the man who looks after his best interests by taking good care of one of his most prized possessions – his car.

To all of us who live in 24/7, always-connected world, the actions above probably seem like a throwback or an anachronism of the good old days.

I happen to think they are a timeless reminder that service still matters – especially in ChurchWorld, where there is no “product” per se, but the outcome of the interactions with our Guests may be eternal.

Thanks Dad, for the lessons you taught me even when I didn’t realize it, and for the lessons you still teach me after you’re gone.

 

It All Begins with Hospitality

Church leaders need to understand the fact that our competition is not other churches; it’s places that provide WOW! Experiences and to which guests compare our churches.

While that may seem a negative, it can also be turned into a positive by LEARNING from those top-notch places and their leaders.

Take for instance Danny Meyer, the founder and co-owner of multiple top-rated New York restaurants and author of a book entitled “Setting the Table.” Subtitled “The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business,” Meyer shares the lessons he’s learned while developing the winning recipe for doing the business he calls “enlightened hospitality.” They are lessons that the church can learn from. Here’s a sample:

Hospitality is the foundation of my business philosophy. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side. Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two prepositions – for and to – express it all.

Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes it recipient feel. Service is a monologue – we decide how we wan to do thins and set our own standards for service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.

People duck as a natural reflex when something is hurled at them. Similarly, the excellence reflex is a natural reaction to fix something that isn’t right, or to improve something that could be better. The excellence reflex is rooted in instinct and upbringing, and then constantly honed through awareness, caring, and practice. The overarching concern to do the right thing well is there or it isn’t.

Eleven Madison Park, founded by Danny Meyer

Eleven Madison Park, founded by Danny Meyer

What a great learning environment for churches wanting to improve their Guest Services team!

Last week, I posted a series on hospitality based on Le Bernardin, the famous restaurant in NYC owned by Chef Eric Ripert. If this post resonated with you, click on the links below for more.

Creating experiences of hospitality allow for positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. They will help you connect to people coming in your door week in and week out.

How will you practice hospitality in your church this weekend?

 

photo courtesy Julian, CC

Invisible Perfection

What the Diner (Hopefully) Doesn’t Notice

At Le Bernardin, one of New York’s premier four-star restaurants, excellence happens best when it’s not seen at all. A meal there is usually so relaxed and gracious, it’s hard to imagine the military precision with which the dining room is run.

• Before meals, the area is prepared according to checklist

• During meals, all staff adhere to strict training guidelines

• A florist makes a daily flower change on all the tables

• Silver and flatware get a weekly polish in a burnishing machine

• The concept of “mise en place” – put in place – extends to the dining room as well as kitchen

Le Bernardin

Le Bernardin

When we succeed, it looks effortless, but it’s not. It’s all codified into different organizations. It’s totally controlled – and the guest should have no idea

– Executive Chef Eric Ripert

Can you say the same about your organization and its interactions with guests?

Why not?

 

photo courtesy Kok Chih, CC

The Elements of Service

The center of attention in a four-star restaurant may be the food, but it’s the service before, during, and after that creates the experience.

Chef Eric Ripert

Chef Eric Ripert

At Le Bernardin in New York City, the service is as much the creation of Executive Chef Eric Ripert as is his exquisite dishes. Along with the restaurant’s founder Maguy Le Coze, Ripert has created the elements of service that keep Le Bernardin at the top of its class.

Hiring – while they prefer staff with a two- or three- star background, they have been known to go with their gut instinct and hire the people they like, those that have the demeanor and willingness to please.

Training – the standard of perseverance and constant training is set at the top and carried throughout the organization. General manager David Mancini and Maitre d’ Ben Chekroun want each hire to know what goes into every other job on the floor. The constant cross-training that goes on enables the entire staff from the captains to the busboys to operate in a seamless, fluid manner.

Knowledge – The level of service expected by customers at Le Bernardin is matched and exceeded by the knowledge the staff constantly pursues. From the technical side (knowing the menu by heart, how each serving is prepared, the correct place settings, etc.) to the human aspect (learning to watch guests for clues, anticipating their needs), the staff is always learning.

Attitude – over the years the atmosphere has become less formal, but Le Bernardin’s staff will provide what you are looking for: to celebrate, to eat, to do business, to entertain the family. Their goal is for you to enjoy the experience and leave happy with a smile.

The Sixth Sense – Chekroun says that the ability to read a guest is the key to providing four-star service. “You can tell if someone is used to a four-star restaurant or it’s their first time. It’s our job to put them at ease no matter the situation. Intuition is very important on the floor – before a guest can ask “Where’s my waiter?” you must be there.”

Teamwork – At Le Bernardin, service is like the proverbial chain – a weak link will compromise the whole thing. Anyone on the chain, from the time you make a reservation till the moment you leave, can ruin the experience. It’s all about functioning as a team; even though the service is broken into sections, that’s merely strategic. The entire team is expected to understand the ebb and flow of the service and step in before needed.

Presentation – The hallmark of the food at Le Bernardin is the exquisite simplicity of the food, which calls for adding the final touch at the table. The sauces for the meal are served at the table, which provides several advantages: warmer service, better flavors, and eye-catching presentations.

Hungry yet?

Okay, let’s step away from the elegance of Le Bernardin and visit your church. Is it too big a jump to imagine that your guest services need to have the same elements of service as a four-star restaurant?

I think not.

In each of the areas above, why don’t you brainstorm how you can deliver four-star hospitality to your guests?

 

photo courtesy Kok Chih, CC

The Dining Experience…

…at a four-star restaurant provides excellent lessons for hospitality in the church.

With one son who is a chef and kitchen manager for a national restaurant chain and another who just finished four years of culinary school and is working as a line cook in one of Charlotte’s top-rated restaurants, I have a serious interest in all things food. My waistline also shows that, but that’s another story.

One of my favorite genres of books is that of the food industry, especially those that give a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in the kitchen and dining room.

During a visit to my older son’s house I was perusing his bookshelf and took a look at “On the Line“, about the famous New York restaurant Le Bernardin and Executive Chef Eric Ripert. It’s a well-written and beautifully photographed look at the inner workings of the world-famous restaurant.

It’s also full of great lessons for churches that want to have world-class guest services.

Your church will not be serving exquisite meals that diners pay big bucks for – but your church can learn that the meal is only a part of the total dining experience.

The Dining Experience

One of the things that diners remark upon after eating at Le Bernardin is that the service is almost invisible. By the end of the meal, you’ve been helped by as many as seven people, but you can’t quite identify them. Although friendly and available, they work out of your field of attention so that you can focus on the food, and companions, in front of you.

While it might seem effortless, it’s a rigorous ballet that requires training and focus. The men and women juggle a plethora of details in their heads while projecting an air of gracious calm.

We have to perform to give you an illusion of effortless perfection. For you to have the right food in front of you at the right time, excellent and at the right temperature, and obviously having clean china – all those little details you’d never think of are vital

– Eric Ripert

In an earlier post, I introduced Le Bernardin’s “The List,”  as a way to think about the guest services practices at your church. I hope you’ll join in on the rest of the conversation over the next few days.

No Excuses Allowed

In Mrs. Soeesby’s Senior English class it was simply called “The List.” In letters large enough to see from anywhere in the classroom, it started above the door to the class and went all the way round the room. Each item was numbered. By the time she retired (between our second and third child’s journey through Senior English), the list was over 100 items.

The list was excuses she had heard over the years from students for not turning in their work on time.

Ever the efficient teacher, she simply required the student to write the number on a blank piece of paper and turn it in.

At Le Bernardin, one of New York’s premier four-star restaurants, co-founder Maguy Le Coze and maître d’ Ben Chekroun give new service staff a list, too – 129 details, aka “Monumentally Magnificent Trivialities” to keep in mind at all times.

Here are a few samples:

• Acknowledging guests with eye contact and smile within 30 seconds; First Impressions count!

• Not thanking guests as they leave; Last Impression!

• Not opening the front door for guests

• Being too familiar or excessively chatty

• No sense of humor

• Lack of eye contact

• Not having total focus when talking to guests

• Not really listening when spoken to

• Appearing stressed or out of control

• Not establishing rapport with the guests

• Inability to answer basic questions

• Poor personal sanitation practices

• Standing around doing nothing

• Pointing

• Walking past dropped items/trash on floor

• Excuses for anything-anytime

It’s a constant battle to keep everything consistent and up to the established standards.

Do you have a list for your Guest Services team?

You should…

Translating Customer Experience for ChurchWorld Leaders

Customer service is, quite simply, how customers perceive their every interaction with an organization. This may come as a shock to you, but churches should have customers, too. 

We just call them Guests.

Just over two years ago, Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, customer experience analysts at Forrester Research, released a book entitled “Outside In.” Subtitled The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, Outside In offers a complete road map to attaining the experience advantage.

When I read the book, it created a whole new awareness of how “customer service” in the corporate environment could be “translated” into the Guest Experience at churches.

If you are a ChurchWorld leader, you need to understand the powerful truths contained in this book. Today I will begin a series of updated posts from two years ago about the book Outside In. This will help introduce a new season of personal emphasis on Guest Experiences for churches, and some exciting news!

Outside In certainly stands on its own, but over the next few days I’m going to be translating the content into the language of ChurchWorld Guest Services, and making applications to how you can take advantage of the Guest Experience in your church. Go ahead and order a copy from Amazon now. It’ll be here in a couple of days. You’ll be referring to it frequently. In the meantime, here’s an outline for your consideration.

The Value of Guest Experience

  • You need your Guests more than they need you
  • You are in the Guest experience business – whether you know it or not

The Guest Journey

  • Discover
  • Evaluate
  • Attend
  • Access
  • Use
  •  Get support
  • Leave
  • Re-engage

The Three Levels of Guest Experience

  • Meets needs – I accomplished my goal
  • Easy – I didn’t have too work hard
  • Enjoyable – I felt good about that

The Guest Experience Ecosystem

  • Deconstructed
  • Visible to customers
  • How to create a Guest experience ecosystem

The Six Disciplines of Guest Experience

  • Strategy
  • Guest Understanding
  • Design
  • Measurement
  • Governance
  • Culture

The Path to Guest Experience Maturity

  • Improve
  • Transform
  • Sustain

The Four Adoption Levels of Guest Experience

  • Missing
  • Ad Hoc
  • Repeatable
  • Systematic

Transformation Priorities

  • Build on strengths
  • Shore up weaknesses

The Rise of the Guest Experience Team

Part 1 of a multi-part series based on the book Outside In 

Outside In

These posts “translate” the world of customer service to the language and setting of Guest Experiences in the church.

NEXT: The Value of Guest Experiences