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Poor restaurant service may be the reason your customers aren’t returning. Here’s how to fix it

Marco Zacharia, Commercial Development Manager for food services at the UK department store chain John Lewis, explains why the skills of front-of-house teams are crucial to repeat business

Delivering good customer service is an art. There isn’t one single factor that defines good service – it covers everything from being friendly and prompt, to serving a glass of wine in the right way. The bottom line is that if you have well-trained, knowledgeable staff, serving good products, customers will be happy to return. Here’s how to ensure this happens.

Hire Mystery Shoppers
An important aspect of maintaining customer service levels is independent feedback. Across all of our shops and catering outlets we conduct “mystery shopper” visits where we send undercover customers to observe the level of service provided at each restaurant. Visits take place each month and detailed feedback is given to the heads of catering of each branch, who then share this with department managers.

Offer Staff Independent Training
But it’s not just internal processes we have in place; John Lewis also offers staff the chance to take nationally recognised qualifications such as the Barista Skills Award Level 2, as well as other vocational catering courses. This not only helps to develop team members’ skillsets and career prospects but also helps us continue to underpin great service to our customers.

Host Regular Coaching Sessions with Staff 
We’ve created a structured coaching programme to ensure our staff deliver the high level of customer service that John Lewis is known for. In our experience, the most effective way to promote good customer service is through live observational feedback. With this in mind, we have set up a system whereby periodically staff are observed by their supervisor and evaluated on a range of criteria, including practical skills within their job role, customer transactions, and approach to certain tasks.

Scores are given against each criterion and used by the manager to form a conversation around what went well and what can be improved – this can be used as part of an appraisal to judge gaps where customer service needs improvement. Here are five pointers for waiting staff and trainers to observe when aiming for excellence:

1 Know your product.
Take the time to learn about the menu you are serving so you can answer any customer questions. This could be anything from knowing about its cookery method or the ingredients it’s made up of to whether the product is Rainforest Alliance-certified. Being knowledgeable really gives the customer a sense of confidence and trust.

2 Listen and anticipate customer needs.
Those who give the best customer service tend to be the best listeners. Ask open-ended questions to elicit a customer’s needs and wants and closed questions to verify your understanding. Recognising the customer’s requirements means fewer mistakes at the service delivery end.

3 Take advantage of any opportunities to learn.
It’s important to keep refreshing and updating skills and techniques as this will help to deliver great service and develop your career. As well as taking advantage of any training offered, you can also learn from colleagues who are delivering great service. Simply identify what you think makes it great, then learn from it and make it your own.

4 Attention to detail is key.
A regular gripe from customers is staff getting the basics wrong. Good service starts with getting the order right, so take note of every request a customer makes, especially when it goes beyond the norm, such as a special dietary need. It will spoil the meal from the outset if you get orders wrong and the flow of service is broken. However, the real skill is rectifying a situation if something does go wrong – you can leave a great lasting impressing if you provide a solution that exceeds expectations.

5 Remember to smile.
Being served by a pleasant person can greatly improve the experience of the customer, so remember to smile and maintain a cheerful attitude. It’s simple, but true, and yet so many forget to do it.

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