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It’s a great big robust word. Its also simple & deep, easy but complex, used but not often thought through. It’s a cliché, it’s common & it’s misunderstood. What are we talking about? "Service" an often lost, lonely, confused, distorted & tortured word, but a word that seeps into every single aspect of industry and particularly the hospitality industry. If "service" is not understood, accepted, adopted & loved by you, your staff & your business, you will rock from crisis to crisis until you eventually bite the dust.

To understand service is to understand the customer & how you deliver what they want, when they want it, in the way they want it. Simple? simple yet complex!

The purpose of business is to create a customer. If you don’t love your customers, you may just be in the wrong job. If you don’t love your job you cannot love your customers. If deep down your attitude to your customers is exploitative, no matter what appears on the smooth surface, that attitude will be sensed and, with competition intensifying, your customers will go elsewhere.

Recently, I had dinner in a regular & favored stop off. My meal was ok but not great. No problem, we all have off days. The owner, unsolicited, came to my table. He told me there was no bill. I asked why, he said he was not happy with the food they produced that night. They made a customer for life. What could have been a crisis was became an event. Recently, a anonymous quote I read captured it..."Service is Love in work clothes"

If you asked 100 people to define service you would get 100 answers. If you asked 100 people to tell you great service experience stories you would get 100 stories too. But there is a common link. Every time I work, teach & train service professionals I ask them to relate great customer experience stories. Often, they can be events that occurred many years ago. Often they were simple & sincere. Always, they were "people" driven and every story always has that common thread of "they went the extra mile". Avis captured it well "We try harder". But, beware! If you over promise & under deliver, you will fail spectacularly. If you under promise & over deliver, you will win. Many years ago at Manchester airport I was with a colleague & late for a meeting. We waited impatiently at the car hire desk. Eventually, our turn came. Our pre booked car didn’t exist. The girl behind the desk was indifferent & moody. My colleague, tenacious & stubborn kept looking at her badge every time she made an excuse..."Try harder" he reminded her.

When Ireland began to emerge from its self conscious & subordinate past our founding fathers, De Valera included, expressed their aspirations and vision of Ireland. " Ireland of the hundred thousand welcomes" It ran through everything, even a state company bearing that very notion "Bord Failte". Fast forward to Italia 90 & the wonderful ambassadorial role of the "friendly" Irish. Fast forward again to today & an evening paper headline " Dublin man convicted of Racial abuse". Times are changing & so is Ireland and so is the customer. A French gentleman visiting Ireland described his fast food experience; "We were taken to a fast food cafe where our order was fed into a computer. Our hamburger made from the flesh of chemically impregnated cattle, had been broiled over counterfeit charcoal, placed between artificially flavored cardboard and served to us by recycled juvenile delinquents" Much has been written about change & it can be summed up simply by "Change or Die". We know everything is in a constant state of change. A business is either growing or dying, it is never standing still. Even though we are acutely aware of change, the paradox is that we resist it. Years ago the proprietor was the judge of who came in, who stayed & who was excluded. Now, it is the customer & the circle has turned. As the court records once recently reported...convicted criminal... "as God is my judge-I am innocent" ...Judge ..."He isn’t; I am, and you’re not"

If we adopt & accept the challenges & changes facing this industry, then there are great rewards. Change is not going to go away. There are many aspects to a successful venue & if that complexity is explored, reviewed, reimagined & rewarded then progress will soon follow. Tom Peters, a leading management thinker, captures it "the best companies people are not hundreds of per cent better in hundreds of ways, they are one per cent better in hundreds of ways" Put simply, it’s all about people.

The solution to a declining business is often not a major spend on design, structures or equipment. They play a part, but only a part. We have all been in unspectacular pubs with great atmosphere, and great temples with no atmosphere. The difference is in the people. How many owners spend hundreds of thousands on design & structures but nothing on staff, management development, or training? How many owners think that a new x y or z will create "atmosphere"? How many sales people take advantage of this and promise the promised land? Atmosphere, which is what we are attracted to is created by people. Structure, design, equipment, merely facilitate that.

The solutions lie within. Your team & your colleagues know your business & know your customer. A simple question which always throws up true and revealing answers is to ask your staff....."what would you do differently if this was your place?"

Recently, to give an analogy, I likened the pub to a theatre. You can have great sets, superb lighting, fantastic comfy seats, wonderful facilities, but, if you have no actors, you have no show & no show equals no atmosphere. Go further, would you build a great theatre with all of the above & then parade un trained actors, with no script & no objectives and expect a great night with whoops of laughter, fun & merriment?

Teach your staff, train them, value them, reward them & most of all empower and listen to them. The answers are under your nose.

"Success is a journey not a destination" When the pub door is finally closed & the staff have gone home, no matter how good the day (or performance) has been, it starts all over again tomorrow & the memories of the future must be created. Successful service is something you have to do every single day.If we don’t, there is a danger that the experience may be reported thus..."If the soup had been as hot as the claret, if the claret had been as old as the bird, and if the bird’s breasts had been as full as the waitress’s it would have been a very good evening"

The greatest single barrier to performance, and therefore happiness and atmosphere, is fear & a lack of confidence. If your staff are employed to deliver happy, cheerful, customer focused service, make sure that they are confident, clear, trained, focused, rewarded & acknowledged. If you have great people, enroll them, listen to them, invest in them & respond to them. Companies & businesses that succeed do all of the above. If your good people are leaving do you blame them or examine your role & treatment towards them?.... ....."most of us would rather be damned by praise than saved by criticism"

Markets, people, customers & conditions will change & then change again. Success comes by embracing change & exploring & exploiting the new avenues & opportunities that creates. There is no better way to do that other than by working with & investing in your colleagues. After all, it’s their pub & business too.
 
This article was published in Licensing World, December 2004.