Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 23, 2006, Herald Journal

Good service is a two-way street


All businesses are service businesses, but some of them don’t realize it.

There are some classic fictional examples of bad service.

John Cleese as the maniacal Basil Fawlty on BBC’s Fawlty Towers took hotel management to new depths.

Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi” gave us an example of a policy where the customer is always wrong.

Sadly, truth is stranger than fiction, and we probably have seen examples in our own lives that make the Basil Fawltys of the world seem like candidates for a good service award.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

There are some people out there for whom customer service is a foreign concept.

They don’t like customers. They don’t like people in general.

They may be bored or indifferent or just plain angry, but it is clear that they would rather be doing something else.

Perhaps they should.

The same is true of servers in a bar or restaurant.

There are some that are just not very good at it, and there are others who hate what they are doing, and want to be sure that everyone around them knows it.

They don’t care if you come back, and in fact, they would prefer it if you did not come back, since in that event they will not be bothered with having to wait on you again.

I have been to establishments where I am convinced that the servers spent most of their time in hiding. Maybe there was a card game in the back room. Maybe they were out having a smoke, or talking on their cell phones.

Wherever they were, they are not on the floor.

My expectations are pretty simple.

When I enter a business, I expect to be greeted or at least acknowledged.

I expect the representative of the business to have some basic knowledge of the products or services they are trying to sell me.

And I expect to receive attention in a time frame that seems reasonable under the prevailing conditions.

This column is not a rant against poor service. There is a distinction between people who just don’t care, and those who work very hard at difficult jobs.

The fundamentals of good service are simple, but it does not follow that service positions are easy jobs.

This is a message of thanks to the outstanding retail and service people out there.

I have encountered many that fit into this group.

It is amazing to watch a great bartender or server at work.

They remember complex orders, and keep things straight in an ever changing environment.

They remember orders even when the customers change their orders and play musical chairs, changing seats at the table or even changing tables and moving to a different part of the house.

They are friendly and attentive even when they are busy and running at full speed.

They can brighten your day with a joke and a smile.

They make it a point to check in with their customers periodically, and do so without unnecessarily interrupting conversation.

These people have the ability to make our leisure time infinitely more enjoyable, and they deserve our respect and gratitude.

Any business transaction is a two-way affair, and if we expect good service, it is incumbent upon us to be good customers.

A bit of patience and understanding goes a long way.

It is fair to expect good service. It is not fair to assume that you are the server’s only customer.

If you try to monopolize a server’s time by forcing them to listen to your personal collection of bad jokes, you are making their job that much more difficult.

You may think your humor is brilliant and original, but they have heard it all before.

Good servers are masters of multi-tasking, but if you keep them running back and forth for one thing at a time, you are making things more difficult than they need to be.

If there is a problem with your dinner order, you can explain this to your server in a calm and reasonable manner, and they will help you to resolve the situation.

Do not holler at your waitress about the way your meal was cooked. She didn’t cook it, but if you give her a chance, she will make it right.

Doing business with an establishment does not entitle you to scream at the staff or treat them with disrespect.

If you are in a bad mood because you just left the office, and you work for a jerk, don’t take it out on your server. She might work for a bigger jerk, and she deserves your understanding, not your harassment.

The same principle applies when you are dealing with a receptionist.

If a receptionist tells you that Mr. Smith is in a meeting or away from his desk, it is not appropriate to ask the receptionist where he is hiding, or interrogate her about why Mr. Smith has not called you back.

She has a job to do, and she should be allowed to do it. If you have an issue, take it up with Mr. Smith.

Good service really can make our leisure time better, but we need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

And one final note; if you are lucky enough to get great service, your tip should reflect this.

Whether you agree with the system or not, these people work for tips, and they deserve to be compensated for accordingly.

This is 2006, not 1956, and your tip should reflect this.

For good service, 20 percent should be considered a starting point. Great service deserves a good deal more.

These people can help us enjoy our free time. It just makes sense to take care of the good ones so they will continue to be there for us.

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