“Would you like sauce with that?”
For the past 4 years Elior has embraced a customer care training package entitled “eXperience” which has given the company a purpose – to have the very best service that we can provide for our customers and clients. It has been a truly beneficial aspect to our work and has engendered a real team spirit too. We all have insights into how to behave and treat other people including internal relationships which have been rewarded in many ways, “The Sunday Times 25 Best Big Companies to Work for 2015” being just one benefit.
“The importance of customer care was brought home by a recent experience”, writes Paul Fisher, Elior’s Director for the Education Division.
“Driving miles up and down motorways every week allows me time to review all the services between Manchester and London either on the M6, the toll road or the M1. Other journeys take me between London and Bristol on the M4 and thus north on the M5. All journeys provide plenty of opportunity to review, compare and contrast, as I used to be asked during exams.
A while ago I had been working in London and decided after living four nights away from home which was wearing a little thin, I needed to get home at a reasonable time. I headed north for the weekend around 1:30pm, not unreasonable because as many northerners will know if you leave it until the mid-afternoon to start your journey then you are very likely to get home at about 8:00pm or even later if there is an incident. In addition, I can make calls from the car, hands free of course.
Hammering along the roads I eventually got to the start of the M1. After a while my thoughts turned to the fact that I’d not had breakfast, only a cup of tea and that I was starting to feel hungry and thirsty.
Toddington Services was next on the sat nav, and as a connoisseur of motorway services, I remembered that they have a traditional Cornish pasty outlet situated just in the concourse outside the main building. And I like those!
I went into the main services and bought a paper as Mrs Fisher was working late (she’s a nurse) and would not be home until 10pm and I would need to relax after the drive and after catching up with correspondence. I then went to my favourite Cornish pasty vendor…
I approached the pasty kiosk and the lady behind the counter could not have been more disinterested… I asked for my pasty and a coffee, not a cheap option going to this outlet as there is also a Gregg’s on site, but quality always wins in my opinion.
So a deaf and dumb process followed, with little eye contact and very little body language of welcome, more a hostile stance that I was disturbing her and being a ruddy nuisance.
I parted with the cash and had to ask for a bag – not unreasonable, and a napkin so that I could read the paper during my driving break and keep the crumbs off my upholstery.
I reflected on this transaction on my continued drive home. For all the effort the Cornish pasty company goes to, e.g. ensuring that their product is sold in the best possible condition paying the expense of rental for the outlet and heating, lighting etc needed to operate the outlet, they were let down badly. It’s not a cheap option and a lot of pasties need to be sold to cover this cost.
The power of feedback
I decided to let the motorway services people know what they had on their hands. Feedback is one of the most powerful things we can give to others as long as it is honest and with the best intentions. There should be positive results and changes that improve the service.
Thankfully, I realised the next morning that on the receipt they asked for feedback. I was soon on the website and giving an honest appraisal of my experience. The form went through all sorts of questions about the fabric of the building, the ambiance and then onto what services I had used.
I explained about the appalling service I had suffered and how many sales must be lost through repeat business etc.
I sent it off and thought no more of it until five days later when the area manager of the services rang me. I reiterated what had happened and at the same time explained that I too work in the hospitality business and understand customer service. We had a convivial chat as he worked for a very large competitor and we had some common ground of work experience. His parting words were that he would send me a voucher for my feedback to be spent at any motorway services owned by his company. I said it wasn’t necessary but true to his word it arrived some days later.
A week ago, I was faced with the same scenario, driving home and hungry – in need of a bite to eat and a coffee. Should I stop and risk being disappointed with my favourite pasty vendor or should I plough on to the next services? No – I stopped and with trepidation went to the pasty kiosk.
The young lady, a new person in fact, could not have been more helpful and was smiling her face off! She was bubbly and engaging and such a polar opposite to the first experience I wondered if I was at the same place. Well evidently I was. She went through the sale with enthusiasm and care, her parting words to me as I walked off back to my car were ‘Would you like sauce with that?’ Fantastic! I’ll be back, as someone used to say.”
Paul Fisher is Elior’s Director for the Education Division. Paul has spent the past 38 years in the industry working across all markets and has spent the past 10 years in education.