Jim Duffy: How much should good customer service cost?

'The whole point of being waited on is that it is an experience,' says Jim Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth
'The whole point of being waited on is that it is an experience,' says Jim Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth
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How much emphasis do you place on efficient and friendly service when going out to eat?

Yesterday, I decided to lunch at the supermarket. As I’m running my new start-up, I thought it best to think and act like and entrepreneur and eat cheap. This particular supermarket restaurant looks good every time I do my shopping. I noted it does deluxe burgers, healthy sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and of course, home made steak pie. Yummy!

The whole point of being waited on is that it is an experience

The self-service queue was easy and I selected a prawn sandwich on healthy brown bread, an Americano coffee and a toffee muffin. I made my way to the young chap on the till, who looked liked he was just out of school, but tapped away promptly in the iPad-style till, took my money and pointed me in the direction of the milk. All good so far… I selected a table near the window and away from other patrons, so I could muse and cogitate.

• READ MORE: Jim Duffy: Best to avoid a close shave with your customers

All was well, until what looked like a grandmother and a young girl sat near me. They placed a silver placeholder on the table with the number 17 on it. They had obviously ordered some hot food and this would alert the server to where they were seated.

I have to say, some considerable time passed until the food arrived. The grandmother was a little agitated and kept looking round to see if there was any sign of it. Finally, it came – a simple plate of chips! The grandmother asked if there was any vinegar.

A simply enquiry I thought, polite and with eye contact. However, the retort from the lady serving the chips was just awful. It went something like this… “Ah jist serve the chips, the vinegar’s up there.” As the server walked past me she rolled her eyes and shook her head. Awful.

Okay, I hear you say, it’s a supermarket self-service “canteen” posing as a supermarket restaurant. What do you expect? My question is what does the store manager expect? What do the branding people who carefully drew up the user experience for these restaurants expect?

I bet you they would expect each patron to be treated with courtesy, at least a smile and a hello, hot, fresh food and of course a hygienic and safe experience. I do not think for one moment they would want you to be served by Mrs Grumpy! So, what indeed are our expectations of customer service and how much do we have to pay for this?

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Let’s look a bit more up-market. There is no doubt that the rise of steak just keeps going. Steak is everywhere now. With rump, fillet, sirloin, ribeye and of course chateaubriand now commonplace in specific steak restaurants and in other more generic establishments and eateries, a good steak is easy to find. But, at say £25 for the steak and then a tenner for the sides plus some red wine, you are looking at £100 for dinner for two. So, at this price point, are we to expect great service? Is what you pay reflected in the service and is this right?

And this question manifests itself in so many other mediums. Flying economy across the Atlantic usually means one gets a drink trolley round and a hot meal on a tray. Compare this with business class, where the three courses, with wine and hot bread, feels a lot more like eating out. But, is it right to expect the cabin crew to be polite, courteous and give us smile in both classes of travel?

I have to say that for me and hopefully you also, it is right to expect a minimum level of customer service regardless if you are at the supermarket restaurant, the up-market steakhouse, flying World Traveller with BA or enjoying Upper Class on a Virgin flight. As soon as any company gets into the service game, then it has to ensure that it gives this service as standard. Otherwise, set up a buffet and leave us all to it.

The whole point of being waited on is that it is an experience. We chose to pay for food and drink and there is an expectation that it will be served with a smile and some effort. As for Mrs Grumpy, I hope she has a better day…

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark

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