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Organizations Need to Better Serve the People Who Serve Customers

Opportunities to dine at restaurants around the globe are a welcome perk of traveling for business as much as I have throughout my career. The chance to sample new cuisine almost makes up for squeezing my grown-up frame into increasingly child-sized airline seats.

At this moment I am in Austin, Texas where I will present at The eLearning Guild Performance Support Symposium 2015. Between networking, attending sessions, and preparing for my presentation, I am conspiring to escape for a taste of the ‘Q at Salt Lick, Franklin BBQ or the legendary Stubb’s. While I am not likely to see much of the Lone Star State’s capitol beyond the conference center, my scheming got me thinking about parallels and paradoxes of customer service professionals in restaurants and contact centers. I spend a lot of time in both.

Whether a company cooks up soup or software in the back of the house, customer interactions with front of house staff heavily influence the public’s experience with a brand and its products or services. Wait staff and contact center agents are too often under appreciated. It’s an unfortunate contradiction that even as the mantra “customer service is the new marketing” has become a rallying cry of would-be change agents and pundits, the strategic value of people who most frequently communicate with customers is often missed.

Perceptions need to change. That change starts by recognizing and understanding what the third word in the job title “customer service professional” really means. Waiting tables in the European tradition is seen as a profession – an occupation that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. In contrast, waiting tables in the United States was typically seen as unskilled labor; maybe something a person does in college or in between auditions. Foodie culture has changed that. Guests turn to servers for information on ingredients, suppliers, and preparation. Wait staff are expected to be authorities on the menu. The best ones don’t disappoint. Everyone is better for it.

Here are a few other ways in which customer service professionals in restaurants and contact centers are similar. Each can:

  1. Make or break the customer experience. The value of a server or agent is at least as much as an organization’s most valuable customer.
  2. Orchestrate product and service delivery from across the company.
  3. Up-sell and cross-sell. In the dining room that means asking a patron if they would care for another cocktail or suggesting nightly specials, frequently high margin offerings. Why not do this in the contact center?
  4. Provide customer feedback to management. Every interaction is a focus group.
  5. Personalize the customer experience. “Dressing on the side? No problem.”
  6. Educate customers about a company’s mission, differentiators, products and services.
  7. Trouble-shoot issues before they escalate.
  8. Convert occasional customers in “regulars.”
  9. See reason number 1.

What can be done to better prepare customer service professionals? Management at the best restaurants educates wait staff. This can take the form of training on POS systems and processes to tastings, food and wine pairings, and pre-service meetings to review the day’s menu. In the end, providing information and guidance helps servers do their job better. The same applies to any customer-facing employee in any industry.

Recognizing and respecting the intrinsic value of customer service professionals benefits employees, management, and the customers they serve. That’s as satisfying as a brisket with a perfect smoke ring.

If you are at Performance Support Symposium 2015, consider attending my session from 4 – 5 p.m. today. I will provide in-depth look at the challenges enterprises face in making the most of investments in performance support solutions. Information access and the underlying architecture are critical components of increasing workforce productivity and satisfaction.

Stephen Pappas

With more than 20 years experience in enterprise software sales and operations, Stephen Pappas manages all aspects of Panviva’s North American operations. He previously served as a Director of International Sales with Harte-Hanks Trillium Software, where he took their enterprise data management offering to 54 countries. Other roles have included Executive Vice President of a SaaS software start-up and Director of Sales and Business Development at PageFlex.

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