Service with a smile: the one free way to boost your business

If your business provides a service to a paying customer, smile. Service with a smile seems to be a dying art in the UK. Don’t let that happen within your business. And don’t put up with it as a consumer either.

I’ll get the gloat out of the way: I’ve just returned from three weeks in my favourite country in the world - New Zealand. Caveat: I didn’t go into the city; as a rule I avoid Auckland and head out to sticks, which is pretty much anywhere else you choose.

New Zealanders have service nailed

One thing’s for sure, New Zealanders do service brilliantly. Possibly better than anywhere else in the world (although I’ve also had some amazing, going-out-of-their-way service in Glasgow too). 99% of Kiwis in retail and hospitality appear happy in their jobs. And even if they’re not, they’re darn good at pretending to love their job!

“Hey, how are you?” is the common opening line from any shop assistance, barista, maitre’d. It takes a bit of getting used to - you don’t have to return the questioning; they’re just being polite - but I bet you’ll appreciate the person taking the time to talk to you.

The outcome? I’m talking about it right here - if you want my New Zealand recommendations, email me!

Politeness costs nothing

Ever hear a parent or teacher cast this enduring wisdom? Well it’s as true as it comes. It costs us nothing more than a smile, eye contact and considered tone of voice to be polite. In the service industry it’s vital.

Upon return to the UK in a relatively mild January, I made the error of ducking into Costa in an attempt to replicate a Kiwi flat white. Aside from the terrible coffee, the store manager couldn’t look me in the eye, sounded utterly unenthusiastic in delivering her order questions and her mouth only cracked to speak, never to smile.

It was an all too familiar experience. I also know that filling in the Costa customer survey that swiftly followed my visit will likely have little chance to change things in that store.

The outcome? I simply won’t go back.

The smaller the business, the bigger the smile

“Serves you right for going to Costa rather than an indie coffee shop,” I hear you cry. You’re absolutely right, but my little market town’s smattering of coffee shops doesn’t do early starts (yes, I have considered opening one myself!).

And, sadly in the UK, the small indies aren’t always great on the smiles front either. And this is what really bothers me.

If you run an independent business, whatever you sell or serve, if your customer service skills are underwhelming it impacts the customer’s experience and reduces the likelihood of them returning.

However much a customer loves what they buy from you, they’ll love it more if you’ve made them feel warm and fuzzy about it too.

The outtake? The smaller your business, the more you and your staff need to smile.

Tips for improving customer service

  1. Go and experience someone else’s customer service

    • Visit three places to buy something (coffee, loaf of bread, toothpaste, etc.)

    • Make a note of how the staff in each place greet you, handle your purchase, answer your questions, proffer assistance, and wave you off

    • How do you feel about each experience?

    • Given there are multiple places you can purchase coffee, bread and toothpaste, how likely are you to return to the places you went this time?

    • If you were the owner of those businesses, would you like to know how your customers felt upon leaving?

    • NB don’t just do this yourself, send your staff as part of their training.

  2. Hire personable staff

    • This may seem blindingly obvious, but have a think about that last recruitment drive you did…

    • A person’s ability to do the core task is vital, but in the service industry smiling is too.

  3. Train staff in customer service again & again

    • We all get tired and dismissive in every day life but it’s on your shoulders as the boss to inject regular refreshers to keep everyone on the ball.

    • Don’t be afraid to identify poor customer service delivery amongst staff. In restaurants it’ll likely mean the customer doesn’t leave (much of) a tip. In retail it might be a gloomy looking customer as they leave or one who never returns (online or on foot).

    • In both scenarios, if the customer doesn’t come back will the staff have a job in six months time…

  4. Instil confidence in your staff

    • A lack of confidence is often mistaken for arrogance or ignorance.

    • Ask yourself why your staff aren’t chirpier with customers on first sight. Work with them to resolve any confidence challenges or training requirements.

    • Just telling someone to do something isn’t usually that effective; help them discover the skills and training requirements that’ll benefit you both.

  5. Focus on your desire to grow and be great

    • Repeat all of the above regularly.

    • Use your marketing to make something of your great team and their fabulous service.

    • Smiley faces of real staff that customers recognise will aid your social media marketing beautifully.

    • Testimonials from customers referencing the service they received are great here too.

Right now, having great customer service is a genuine unique selling point (USP) so go shout it from the rooftops!

Here at Coconut we work with hospitality businesses to provide an objective perspective on the customer experience (in person and online). We help businesses join the dots between the brand projected online and the service delivered in person. You can too.

For an initial, no-obligation conversation, call Kate.