What The Wait-Staff At Your Favourite Restaurant Can Teach You About Customer Service

“Waiter! There’s a hair in my soup!”

Do you have a favourite restaurant or a watering hole that you visit week after week? The one place that is your go-to, where you are guaranteed to have a good time. We all have one, the one place we keep going back to.

What makes these places our favourite? Why do we choose that particular one, when there are so many options out there?

Good food, yes. Definitely. But also, what differentiates you from the other places serving good, even great, food is good service. Stand out service, that makes you going back for more. And the people at the forefront of delivering such amazing service, time after time, are the wait-staff. The people that can teach us a thing or two about customer service.

Service with a smile

One of the first lessons a person working in a restaurant has to learn is to smile. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But even when a customer is annoying them, getting on their last nerve, a good waiter never loses his cool.

Likewise, a good customer support agent. Who is, in fact, hampered by the fact that he cannot get a ‘read’ on his customer, on account of not being face to face with them. When your voice is all that you have to take you forward with your exchange, it helps to smile. Sounds a bit weird, understandably, but your smile can carry through your voice. When your customer listens to you or is reading what you are typing, it really helps if you lighten up and respond with a smile.

When you smile, you automatically loosen up. You relax and your interactions take on a much more chilled tone. You find yourself in a better frame of mind to empathise and offer assistance.

So next time, try answering your call with a smile. And see how it turns out!

Personalised Service…

… not one that follows a script. Remember those times when you walked in and the maitre’d greeted you with a standard “Good evening sir / ma’am” and your waiter, “I am Mark and I will be serving you today!”?

Well they are on their way out. Rigid, scripted responses are out; personalised service, tailored to suit the customer is in.

Ditto in any field. No one likes to be on the receiving end of  robotic service, least of all a virtual customer, who has a very low attention span. So grab them quick with a personalised greeting and run with it, if you want to nail your customer service. If you have a history with them or some background data on them, thanks to the data god that is Big Data, now is the time to dig deep into it because knowing the customer’s preferences and proclivities will go a long way in helping you personalise your service.

“Would you like some fries with that?”

Now, this is usually thrown about almost as a joke but every restaurant I have ever been to asks a variation of this. In fact, if I don’t hear a “would you like XYZ with that?”, I take it as an indication that things are going to go South.

What this means is that, be prepared to offer what isn’t on the pre-approved list of magic tricks. What your customer wants, your customer gets. When he wants the Sun, the Moon, most of the stars and a couple of stars, do remember to thrown in an astroid and a comet or two and wrap it all up prettily in a bow. Anticipate what your customer wants, before he asks for it and deliver it. That’s the way forward.

Be quick on your feet

Waiters are some of the most nimble people, almost like professional dancers. They have to be, to survive in that high-stress, high-pressure situation day after day. Hoisting huge platters and making their way through a crowded room needs a lot of nimble-footedness and agility and the good ones have it in spades.

So should we. Virtually, of course. This means doing the preparatory work beforehand, so we know the product left, right and all around and can come up with ready solutions to anything, be it a standard query or an existential question. The query may well sound a bit off, but the most ridiculous ones may well win you brownie points in the form of viral content. Who knows?

Customisations? No problem!

“Gluten-free? Check. Sugar-free? No problem. Vegetarian with a vegan bent? That’s just fine. I will be right out with your order.”

I remember once asking for no-garnish (I was going through a coriander hating phase) on my dish, when the herbs clearly were chosen to add some zip and flavour to it but all I got was a “not a problem, dear!” and mine came out without a coriander speck in sight. The chef may well have cussed out loud but between him / her and the waiter, they made sure they got my order right.

One of the biggest lessons in customer service is that it ain’t about us – it is about the customers. So, what the customer wants is what we offer. At HappyFox, the chatter between the dev team frequently goes on as follows:

@N: The client wants to have this tweak done to his app. Doable?
@S: Of course. Give me a day.
@N: Great. Is that time enough to test it?
@S: Yes, definitely. Tell him yes.

Whatever our standard bag of tricks contain, they must definitely include a magic wand to make whatever customisations our customer demands.

 Be patient

They hum. Haw. Dither over this or that. Maybe decide they do not want dessert after all. Or maybe just an ice cream. All the while, the poor waiter is standing by with a smile on his face, ready to call it a night. But blowing it now means blowing all chances of a good tip and what a loss that would be, after an evening of hard slog? Patience is what will bring it home.

For them and for us. Especially those in the Sales side of things, it sometimes might mean playing the waiting game. Some leads pan out straight away; some take a while. Sometimes it may just be beyond our reach and we may well be tempted to jump in. But being patient and being cool, will definitely be worth it.

No client wants to feel rushed or like they are being “sold” to. So, let us all remember Mark at the eatery round the block and be patient.

2-bite check

Don’t you absolutely love it when your waiter comes by after all of you have been served and you have had a bite or two and asks: “and how was it, ma’am?” 

At my favourite place, the answer every time is “everything is delicious, Mark, thank you!” and there are plenty of smiles all around.

Let us take a leaf out of Mark’s handbook and do the 2-bite check. Touch base with them after a day or two to find out if things are going swimmingly. Now that they have been working with the product a while, are things as good as we are sure they will be? Did they have any difficulties whatsoever in getting a task done? Is there anything you can get them?

As long as we have a customer, we are all in the field of customer service, be it the wait-staff at the chain down the street or the ones serving us when we are shopping online. So what tips can you give us, on delivering exceptional service? Share your answers / thoughts below. 

Lavanya Donthamshetty

Writer. Apple-lover. Follower of big brands. Interested in talking about all things customer support. Follow me on Twitter @lavanyad