To provide excellent customer service you have to really know what makes people tick. One of the things I always recommend to young(er) people – I’m not old enough to refer to everyone as ‘young people’ – is to spend some time working in a restaurant or cafe. These places offer valuable opportunities to study human nature.
Before I made a life-changing decision to move to a(nother) foreign country and settle there, find a J.O.B, and make a fresh start in life with my family, I worked hospitality. In fact, I owned and managed a small cafe in the Dandenong Ranges of Victoria, Australia. For the most part, I liked it. There are certain things that the hospitality industry can teach you that you just can’t – or won’t – learn in other walks of life. Primarily, hospitality teaches you about people. Short of a battlefield or wartorn country, hospitality can show you the best and the worse that humanity has to offer. I’m being dramatic, but I’m sure those of you who have worked in cafes, restaurants, or other hospitality services will get a hint of what I’m referring to:
- The gorgeous couple who come in every morning to pick up their coffees on the way to work. The high school kids that drop in during their lunch hour and maybe stay a little bit too long because they end up in a spirited debate about a movie or fashion trend.
- The nerdy student who drops in once a week who lets you know everything that happened in his DnD meetup from the week before.
- The old lady who is so alone and slightly losing her mind so she tells you the same story over and over again every day when she comes in and you listen politely because you can’t do anything else.
- The really annoying, misogynist customer who you eventually end up asking not to come back because of how he treats your staff.
- The young woman who insists on ordering the most expensive thing on the menu plus two chai lattes and then complains at the end because it’s too pricey.
You all know what I mean. People are people and hospitality teaches you how to deal with them: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I’m happy to say that barring a rather… odd – for lack of a more diplomatic term – landlord, I rather enjoyed my learning experience at the cafe, if only in retrospect. Running a cafe like that was a little like running a community hub – a little place where you get snippets of people’s lives, whether you want to or not, and you learn to deal with difficult situations. I can’t tell you how many times I really wanted to throw someone’s drink in their face when they were being rude or demeaning – don’t order a ristretto if you don’t know what it is! – but, in the hospitality industry, you learn restraint.
To provide excellent customer service requires a steady, level head, a great deal of patience, and a bucket load of lateral thinking. A lot of the time, you have to be able to navigate through complicated communication with your customers. For example, if a customer orders a ‘hot’ coffee it falls to the barista to deliver a ‘hot’ coffee – most cafes have set temperatures for ‘hot’ and ‘warm’, depending on their coffee machines – but always remember that the customer’s definition of hot might not be in line with the cafe’s. It helps if the customer is a regular, of course, then you might be better able to get to the bottom of what they mean by ‘hot’. My advice? If a new customer asks for ‘hot’ coffee, always make sure you remind them that it’s ‘hot’ when you pass it to them, just so they don’t burn themselves.
Many hospitality businesses struggle to provide excellent customer service because they interpret that to mean that the customer is always right means that the customer should always get their way. While it’s important to accommodate all reasonable needs and requirements, it’s also important to manage customer expectations. When a customer has a great time within or beyond the realm of their expectations and you are satisfied with your own delivery, that’s what it means to provide excellent customer service.