Are your on the ground instructions hampering your customer service?

After lunch with a friend on the weekend, we were on the topic of customer service. Fortunately for us that day we received very good service, but as we spoke, we reminisced past visits to various restaurant chains around London.

We joked about the moment where the waiter or waitress returns to your table, just as you put a fork full of chips in your mouth for the obligatory “is everything ok with your meal?”. I often find myself nodding my head while frantically trying to eat the chips so that I can give a proper answer. I always fail.

What made us laugh was that we have both been subject to this same experience in many restaurant chains.

It is not the question itself that is a problem, alone it is a harmless quality check that everything is going well; it is the routine nature of the request and the lack of sincerity that comes with it.

Waiters and waitresses in these restaurants are told by their managers as part of their On The Ground Instructions (OTGIs) to check back after 2-3 minutes. The mechanisation of a process that by its very nature should be quite informal results in an event that adds no value and results in a vital skill being lost by these employees; understanding your customer’s needs.

An employee no longer needs to rely on their intuition and understanding of body language to determine whether everything is ok or not and instead must replace this with a routine response to an event that fails to meet anyone’s needs.

As a customer, we start to pick up on these patterns and the gesture loses credibility. The OTGIs are there to help prevent employees from delivering bad customer service but ironically act as a barrier to delivering good customer service.

It is not a trade-off in my view. Good customer service bears no greater financial burden than bad, it simply costs time. Time to listen and time to respond. If you spend too much time standardising a process without sufficient flexibility to allow the employee to respond to the specific needs of a customer, you risk delivering no greater value than a fast food chain.

So, how do you know if you’re on the ground instructions are hampering your customer service? Use your own product. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and experience it from start to finish. If it lacks a value that doesn’t distinguish you from the competition, you’ve got some work to do.

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