Friday, 20 July 2012

"People" Skills

Recently we spent a few days in Melbourne doing some training. This is a requirement in our profession to stay compliant with health fund regulations, if you are a provider. We spent 4 days with a great Instructor who was very inspiring. The experience at the workshop and another at a local Melbourne restaurant gave me cause to think about good business practices- which I think are just good people practices.
It's funny, because a week or so ago I was speaking with a friend and made the comment that I thought to be successful in the customer service industry these days, a business owner needs to remember that business is primarily about people and not money. I trully believe it is most important to be aware and attentive to the needs of customers, above all other business aspects. When I am a customer I think if I have a really great service experience, a lot of other aspects like price, surroundings, quality, quantity, etc can be just at an adequate level. Let me explain....
  The workshop we attended cost us $1200 to attend, $600 for accomodation, and $400 for airfares. Plus, when you are self employed, the cost of 4 days without any income. But let me say the quality of the service, provided by the Instructor, lets me put those costs in perspective. He was totally attentive throughout, asked at the outset what each learner wanted to take away from the instruction, discussed how to use the learning in your business, constantly checked in with the class that everyone "got it", explained in another way when a learner didn't "get it",  regularly allowed time for questions, and allowed regular short breaks to avoid the mental fatigue that can accompany 4 days of Anatomy and Physiology learning. My point is....quality of service justified the reasonable cost for me.
This also was really made clear to us when we ventured out for dinner at a restaurant I had heard about( on on a television cooking show, actually). I had a look on the internet and found you could not book a table unless it was for a group of 8 or more, and that there was likely to be a "bit of a wait for a table"...that just intrigued us : ) ! At least we were forewarned....
 So we dressed up, took a tram into the city, and found the restaurant. Nothing too showy....just a door with the name of the place above it. When we entered we discovered we were at the end of a queue, at the bottom of a stairway and the restaurant was above. There were probably 30 people in front of us, and we were at the bottom of the stairs- just squeezed inside. It looked daunting, and we thought this was a crazy way to run a business! But a young man ( of a waiter nature) came down the stairs very quickly to tell us there was a 1 hour wait for a table, but that we would have a drink and something to "munch" on within 25 minutes. He asked if we were happy to wait under those circumstances. We were appreciative of the quick attention and thought we would wait for a while- but I have to say I was having doubts about the evening. We chatted with eachother, with the others on the stairs, and 20 minutes passed quite quickly. The queue moved upward and, as promised, we were ushered upstairs to the bar within 20 minutes( 5 minutes faster than expected). It was interesting how being 5 minutes-ahead-of-time impressed us! The bar options were extensive and the bar staff were amazing in their ability to patiently explain several pages of tequila derived  alternatives, boutique beers, and white and red wines to help us decide on something that was similar to our usual preferred drinks. And they were absolutely "on the mark." We enjoyed sipping our drinks, looking around the crowded restaurant, nibbling some locally made corn chips, and wondered how they would keep track of us amongst all the other patrons at the bar. But within another 20 minutes we were taken to our table. The tables were really close together and normally I wouldn't like that, but the soft lighting and the busy atmosphere of the place, along with the great latino music muffled out the crowds! After asking if we had eaten there before, the waitress explained every item on the menu and, again, was attentive to us with our shared plates being taken from the table promptly but unobtrusively. We were a little unsure how much to order because of the sharing idea with the type of food, but her guidance was perfect. We learned a lot about the nature of the food ( regional mexican) as well as enjoying the flavours. There was no hurry at all to leave- but you know at 10:30 pm, as we left, there were another 30 people waiting on the stairs to be seated!
So I will say the food was great( but not AMAZING by technical standards), the cost was average( $120 for the 2 of us ), the wait to sit originally seemed crazy, but on a scale of 1-10 with regard to customer service I would rate it a 15- every step of the way! And that's what made it so memorable, and why I will tell others, and why I would go again if I lived in Melbourne( and certainly will if I return). So in regard to the "eating out" experience, this time it was again amazing customer service that far outweighed, what would normally have been, a ridiculously long time to wait for a table.
For me these 2 really different experiences demonstrated that customer service is the most important aspect of any business. I will continue to treat it as such, and I hope others in business will also. It seems to be what customers mention they crave the most.  Maybe, in these tougher economic times, the customer will benefit beacuse of this.

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