The 10 Biggest Myths of “Customer Service” (And What to Do About Them)

Customer Service is one of the most vital areas of your business. Are you providing the best possible service to your patrons?

By Jim Sullivan

I like what I do. Every year I deliver dozens and dozens of service and sales-building seminars for successful companies around the world. We also help overhaul and re-design manager and server training manuals and programs for a variety of successful chains and independent restaurants. And in doing so, I get to assimilate a wide variety of best practices relative to customer service, employee retention, incremental sales building, cost controls and creative management practices.

And if you pay enough attention, you start to see subtle patterns, trends and evolutions occurring in hospitality management theory and practice. And in case you haven’t noticed, a sea change of new behavior is in full swing right now. I’d like to outline and possibly debunk 10 customer service myths that used to hold water in our industry and now are losing value as operating principles.

Do you agree or disagree with the following points and counterpoints? The way you think about each one may provide a road map for your operation’s success in these challenging times.

  1. The Customer Comes First

    Never treat a customer better than you do an employee. Today we need good employees more than they need us. Our employees are our first market. So instead of ranking relationships between customers and employees, we should focus on establishing equity instead. Service, like charity, begins at home, and if you’re not investing in serving your team as equally well as you serve your customers, you’re headed for trouble, pure and simple.

  2. The Customer is always right

    No. The customer is not always right, but is always the customer, and it’s alright for the customer to be wrong. The customer is usually right.

  3. A Satisfied Customer Comes Back

    “Customer satisfaction is meaningless,” says author Jeffrey Gitomer. Customer loyalty is priceless. People don’t want to be “satisfied” as customers. (Heck, K-Mart can “satisfy” customers for crying out loud.) They want fun, flair, memorable experiences. A satisfied customer doesn’t necessarily ever come back. As Danny Meyer, New York City restaurateur says, “Give your guests what they remember and give them something new each time they visit.”

  4. We’ve Got to Focus on the Competition

    You’re right. But what you may not realize is that your competition is the customer, not the other restaurants. So stop looking across the street and focus on the face above the tabletop or at the counter.

  5. Comment Cards and “Secret” Shoppers accurately Measure Service

    Shoppers accurately Measure Service”. Measuring customer satisfaction in your restaurant by merely tallying mystery shopper scores and comment cards is like judging chili by counting the beans. Measure what matters. Same store sales increases, higher customer traffic, and lower employee turnover are just as—if not more—important measures. Mystery Shopping is effective, but only if it measures the good as well as the bad, and the “shoppers ” are people with hospitality experience who know the subtleties to look for. Focus on creating internal quality for your staff first and they in turn will build a happy customer. A happy customer buys more.

  6. People are our most important asset

    The old adage that “people are your most important asset” is wrong. The right people are your most important asset. The right people are not “warm bodies”. The right people are those servers, cashiers, cooks, hostesses or managers who would exhibit the desired team and customer service behavior you want anyway, as a natural extension of their character and attitude, regardless of any control or incentive system. Hire nice people. Training people to be nice is tough. Hire the personality, train the skills. Where do you find good people? See number 7.

  7. There’s a Labor Crisis

    According to the National Restaurant Association and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, every seven days we turn over 250,000 employees in this industry. Yikes. But where do they go? To other industries, or other restaurants? Get straight on this: there is no “labor” crisis. We’ve got a turnover crisis. So the tough question you have to ask yourself about your operation is not “Are there enough people available to work?” but rather “Are there enough people available to work who want to work for us?” Make your operation a fun, reputable and caring place to work.

  8. Invest first in building the Brand

    Sorry, I disagree. Invest first in people, second in brand, third in bricks and mortar. As Red Robin president Mike Snyder says, “Give me a Weber and a tent in a parking lot along with the best service-oriented people who take care of the customer and each other, and every shift I’ll beat the pants off the restaurant with the multi-million dollar building next door.”

  9. Information is Power

    Know the difference between “information” and “communication”. These two words are often used interchangeably but in fact, mean two different things; information is “giving out”, communication is “getting through”. Training is your secret weapon, but I suspect that much of your training informs more than it communicates. Besides, the belief that information is power leads managers to hoard it, not share it, and that’s backwards thinking. Sharing information not only enlightens, it shares the burden of leadership and engages the creativity and solutions of the entire team.

  10. We Need New Ideas to Progress

    Why do companies always want “new ideas”? I’ll tell you why, because “new ideas” are easy. The hard part is letting go of ideas that worked for you two years ago and are now out of date. So before you and your team brainstorm dozens of “new ideas” that get listed on flip charts, gives everyone a warm fuzzy, and then are never implemented, allow me to suggest a different angle. The newest and most innovative thing you can do for your business may be to master the “basics” that everyone knows and no one executes consistently (like caring behavior, service with flair, and employee appreciation). Because unlike Nehru jackets and boy bands, the basics of great service never goes out of style.

In summary, remember that there is no “silver bullet” for guaranteeing great service and a great team, but maybe Darrell Rolph, CEO of Carlos O’Kelly’s, says it best: “Keep it fresh, keep it focused, and remember to say thank you.”