Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

Johnny is a good man!

April 30, 2013 12 comments

It’s Saturday night and we were meeting with friends at Kovalam’s famous Hawa Beach (3rd Beach). The plan was to enjoy a seafood meal at one of the beachfront shacks that line the length of this popular tourist destination.

We walked along the tiled walkway that separates the restaurants from the beach, to check the sights and the available seafood. The walk had made us thirsty and a chilled beverage was the need of the hour. We had made a short-list of the restaurants to choose from after checking the stuff on display. A restaurant that wasn’t crowded got our vote – Well, most shacks had a handful of diners because this is the fag end of the tourist season, with the weather getting hotter each day in Kerala.

The Service Staff who ushered us to our seats had a warm smile and made us feel welcome. All of us noticed it, but it was my wife who captured the essence of the experience while we walked back to the car after 2-3 happy hours of chatting, drinking and gourmandising:

“One doesn’t need a degree in Hotel Management to do a great service job. Till what Class you think that guy has studied – not even High School, I guess. But, just look at the way he remembered to do and say the right things at the right time. Fantastic! He made our visit to the place worth remembering.”

How does one teach Service Staff such things?

I’ve been to so many fine-dining restaurants and received such indifferent service. The staff usually treat visitors with such disdain. They somehow fail to think long – term or  from the customer’s point-of-view. They are busy doing a job.

So, what did Johnny do that made us feel different? No, this isn’t Johnny as in “Johnny-come-lately” or “Some Johnny”; that is his name! Mr.Johnny is special.

He wasn’t wearing a starched uniform or speaking in a clipped accent, but most wait staff at Kovalam know a smattering of English thanks to the interactions with 1000s of foreign tourists. He didn’t have slicked-back hair and his grooming was ordinary. But, all that just didn’t matter. He overwhelmed us with Care!

He suggested the best fish and the preparations that would suit our palate. When the food arrived he placed the food ordered at the right places, having remembered who had ordered what. Even when he was far from our table I noticed him glancing our way to check whether the glasses had beverages in them. He was not only keeping us happy but ensuring that the restaurant got more business. It was smart thinking!

While we ate the food Johnny stopped by to refill the plates and then asked the ladies whether the preparations had come out right – “How does it taste, Madam? Is everything okay?”

Post the meal his question was “Did you enjoy the meal?”

And after we settled the check and rose to leave he asked “Next time you aren’t going anywhere else? Come straight to our place and we will ensure that you have a good time.” Bingo!

It was a clever thing to say, but it also meant that he had heard us discuss the other restaurants on the beach. My wife and I had been telling our friends, who are from out-of-town, that we come here often and the other shacks serve good food too. He wasn’t lurking to gather juicy titbits from our conversation, just that when he visited our table the relevant bits of our exchanges stayed in his head to be used at the opportune moment. It is a useful skill.

Isn’t it plain common sense? I mean …  Customer Service:

–          Receive the customer with a smile

–          Help them make the choices

–          Suggest without sounding opportunistic

–          Be around to help

–          Sense the mood and the need

–          Keep the interaction going without intruding

–          Check whether the customer is happy

–          Be there to help throughout

–          Confirm that everything went well

–          Sign off in style

–          Tell the customer that you look forward to seeing them again

Johnny did all that with such style and he had not been taught any of it. He just picked it up along the way. He might just blink if one were to ask him about CRM, CLM and CSAT.

But he had what is took …. Service Attitude. The books tell you everything you wish to know on the subject but ultimately service is about sensing, feeling and doing.

The bill was not a small one but we were beaming as we walked away!

Johnny proved once again that ….. Good Customer Service makes great Business Sense!


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A Service Call?

February 25, 2013 12 comments

“Samsung Service, Good Afternoon!” That’s a fair start, I thought.

The caller’s requirement – Location of their smartphone service center at Cochin (given the number of phones being sold these days they would certainly have more than one in the city.)

“I am calling from Cochin. Can you give me the address of your Service Centre here?”

“Certainly, Sir; but can I take a few details in order to help you?”

“Sure, go ahead” said I.

These are the questions he asked:

“May I know your name, please?” (Valid question .., Answered.)

“What is your contact number?” (Was answered too)

“What is your alternate number?”

“Hello! Why would you need that? Sorry! Can’t tell you that.”

“What is your email ID?”

By now I was really worked up – puffs of smoke emanated from my nostrils each time I exhaled.

“Why do you need an email ID to tell me the location of your service center?”

This guy had the cheek to say – “We want to send you details regarding our products and offers.”

“Excuse me! I did not call you for offers. Are you going to give me the address or shall I cut the call?”

The man is not fazed, nor is he apologetic; he just carries on …

“What phone are you using?

I replied “Samsung Galaxy Note – the first model, not the new one”. That was sufficient, or so I thought.

“What is the model number?” (I obliged)

“When did you buy it?” I really lost it – was just a blink away from having a blue fit.

“Are you going to give me the details or not?” This question was delivered with a lot of self-restraint.

“Sir, what is your Pin Code?”

I told him because that would help him identify the location nearest to me. After a few seconds:

“Sir, you can go to Muvattupuzha … please take down the address and phone number!”

I exploded, could not stay composed after that.

“Muvattupuzha is 50 kilometres away, my friend!!”

I had added a few kilometers to give a round number but it was a different city, a suburban town actually. I was located in the heart of Cochin and there were at least 2 – 3 Service Points in this city.

“I thought you had confirmed my location with the Pin Code; why are you asking me to travel to another city? I am sure you have centers here.”

“Sir, can I place you on hold while I get the details?” grudgingly I agreed.

I waited for a minute and a half listening to some terrible tune and then cut the call.

The Service Center had my phone number and email ID but they did not call back to apologise and provide details did and I got no email with the necessary information.

–          Isn’t this a lesson for people involved in Service?

–          Can you permit the Service Staff to get away with such behavior?

–          Should you be training your Service Staff to do this?

–          I am aware that gathering information is important, but how much?

Is it necessary to complete the drill when a customer is in desperate need of support? What was the Agent thinking about when he behaved this way? I thought to myself wouldn’t he get worked up if he walked into a hospital with an emergency and the doctor started asking a lot of questions instead of starting the treatment?  Would he understand and accept that these formalities need to be completed before anything can be done?

Shouldn’t the Agent have done some thinking on the feet and changed the script and behavior? He did nothing to empathise with my concern – just went on like an automaton.

And here is the funny bit in this story – the phone isn’t mine. I had taken up this task to help a friend. He laughed when I narrated the incident and quipped “Well, you got an article for your blog!” He knew me too well. Later we got the address of Service Point by approaching one of the retailers who sold phones.

Opportunity knocks just once they say …. I say, that the Customer calls just once!

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How bad do you want that sale?

January 31, 2013 24 comments

I walked up to the Convenience Store near my office to buy a packet of chewing gum – the man in charge of the store was seated at the entrance, gazing at the world going by. He reluctantly got up and fetched the item and extended it to me.

I paid him Rs.10/- and waited for the change – he smiled and said: “No change!”

There is a shop right next door and he could have easily walked across to ask for a small loan, just enough to pay me, if they didn’t have change for 10. The amount could have been returned later in the day.

But he didn’t do that! I stared incredulously at the man for a few moments and walked away. I am sure he expected me to fetch the change, because the need was mine. Well, he had another guess coming. One is never desperate for gum … Not me, for sure!

Have you seen this happen – you walk into a store and the Salesperson doesn’t seem interested in your custom.

In another instance I walked into a white-goods outlet and saw the entire team in the store gathered in front of the TVs on display to watch India play Pakistan in an ODI match. They were so engrossed in the proceedings on TV that my presence was not noticed till I called out to get attention. And then it was a reverse tug-of-war with each of them trying to coax one of others to attend to my needs – I am sure each of them was saying “Killjoy!” in their head – it was quite evident from their expressions!

(Purely as an aside let me ask, have you noticed how during cricket matches in India the Policemen positioned at the periphery of the ground are seated with their backs to the audience and enjoying the match, while in England you would see them with their backs to the playing area to make sure that law and order is maintained in the stands. Now, who is the smart cop?)

The margin available on a packet of gum would not be significant, but if the Salesman were to repeat such behaviour on a regular basis the consequent loss of income in a month would be huge. And in both the examples given above it is likely that over a period of time less and less customers would show interest to do business with them.

Often it’s because the person is totally demotivated and lacking interest in his job – for a variety of reasons. This little convenience store on a side road would not be receiving much business on any given day and hence it makes the owner’s behavior monumentally stupid. One hopes that he has read the writing on the wall and shows more enthusiasm and interest in his customers.

If the entire complement of staff in the white-goods store were to focus on a game or behave in a lukewarm manner when customers walk in, the outlet would soon be on the chopper’s block – the owners would have to shut shop. This outlet belongs to a retail brand that has a number of outlets across the city. Poor performance on a regular basis at one outlet could cause a lot of negative publicity in the market that can impact the entire chain and potential loss of revenue for the stake-holders. Are the Supervisors / Managers aware of the situation?

I hope for their sake that my experience was an exception, a minor aberration, and that the behavior is more energetic and correct at most times.

It is essential for senior managers in the organization to sense-check what is happening in their empire. It shouldn’t be that things were rotten and the smell reaches them only after things are way beyond repair.

Employees need to be reviewed, trained and coached regularly to ensure that they battle ready and eager to provide service – they need to stay motivated all day, all year round. There is no room for complacency and slackness.

Customers need to sense that their presence is appreciated and that their patronage is valuable.

Sales Pros, please put your best foot forward and give them your best smile. The customer may not knock a second time because he has other options today.

Spilt Beans!

January 4, 2013 18 comments

Walking into the flagship store in town, of one of India’s leading coffee franchises, I witnessed this sight. Well, they said that a lot can happen over a cup of coffee, but I was not expecting this from a brand that took pride in taking coffee drinking experience to another level in this country.

2013-01-03 11.29.50I checked with the Service Team and was told that there is no storage space at the back of the store and while I was there they even walked up to boxes to extract material needed to prepare the items ordered. I wouldn’t be peturbed witnessing such a sight at a Dhaba, but it irked me to see it happening here.

I am sure the marketing team of this organisation took great pains to design each element that constituted the brand and the layout of every outlet would have been detailed to create maximum impact. But did they foresee this?

At the organisations I worked the constant message heard was that the brand is sacrosanct and can’t be tampered with. Young marketing team members incurred the wrath of the senior managers for not getting the colours and layout right in the promotional material. Colour settings, fonts and the relative sizes of the logo and brand name had to be just right – no latitude; and deviations were dealt with severely!

But the same Managers did not flip when they walked into a branded store of the company and found boxes containing promotional material stacked in an ugly pile where customers and other visitors could see it – sometimes right next to the door!

The upkeep of the customer reception area reflected the company’s ethos, its DNA and revealed the mood that prevailed among the team members. It had to be clean, easily accessible and pleasing on the eye.

If the glow-sign displayed outside the store was broken and unkempt and not lit at night customers didn’t need to be told that things are not all-right inside. No employee of the organisation should permit this to happen.

The least this coffee franchise could have done was to stack the boxes in a neat pile and cover it with a decent piece of cloth so that it did not present an ugly sight to the visitors. In fact this pile also caused some inconvenience to customers who wished to take the cosy corner seat next to the window. They had to step over a box to get there. What was the impression they were creating? This team had obviously forgotten the Moments of Truth concept.

I don’t wish to say it all; what thoughts do you wish to share on this subject?

One for the road – Black & Straight: Imagine taking the last sip from a cup of coffee you relished and the dregs flow into your mouth!

Guest Relations- a changing concept?

December 8, 2012 3 comments

Dear Friends,

Day-1 of Year-2 for the Sales Coach Blog …. I had promised you that goals for the blog would be different this year and there would be interesting new features.

What better way to begin the year than getting the change implemented on the very first day …. the first new feature: Guest Writers!

Here is an article written by Jamshed Lateef (popularly known as Jamy), Guest Relations Manager at The Fairmont Royal Pavilion, Barbados. He studied Mechanical Engineering at College of Engineering, Trivandrum but then changed track and picked up a Diploma in Hotel & Tourism Management from Hotel Institute Montreux, Switzerland in 1997. He lives in Saint James, Barbados with his wife, Lily.

Jamy has been a regular visitor at the Sales Coach blog and his comments after reading each article were so detailed and insightful. Those inputs added hugely to the value of the articles I presented.

What better way to recognise his contributions to the development of the Sales Coach Blog than to ask him to present an article here; it is a matter of great joy and pride for me to present the first Guest article at this blog.

He talks about his own profession, which also is his pet subject – Guest Relations helps hugely in bringing repeat business and referral Sales for your organisation. Over to Jamy …


Guest Relations- a changing concept?

First of all, it is an absolute honour to be invited to present an article on Sales Coach Blog.

Guest Relations Officers

Guest Relations Officers

The role of a Guest Relations Executive, Officer or Manager in the hospitality industry, and in general, has evolved over the years from being glamour-oriented to a key function instrumental in being the perfect ambassador.The person should also be knowledgeable and skilled to provide guests/ customers with a captivating  first impression and facilitate a thorough introduction to products and services.

Let us take a look at Disney’s concept of Guest Relations- anyone who has visited Disney’s theme parks would be pleasantly surprised to know that the ladies and gentlemen in charge of keeping guest and public areas neat and tidy are given the title Guest Relations because on a daily basis they interact with guests from all over the world and are trained to respond to basic guest queries and/or guide them in the right direction; they are not there only to maintain hygiene and sanitation.

Now, in established hotel chains, the Guest Relations function is usually the department in charge of producing the WOW! effect for return as well as first-time customers. The job description covers management and supervisory tasks related to the Front Office, Sales, PR, Food & Beverage and even duties and responsibilities of the Executive team in their absence. It is definitely not glamorous as I mentioned earlier, but a very important and responsible job function where the individual is always on stage and should be street-smart enough to think on his/her feet while carrying out daily duties and resolving issues.

As far as the modern guest is concerned, the Guest Relations Manager should be an encyclopedia of knowledge able to cater to all their needs, respond adequately to all their queries and be able to find solutions to all their issues without showing any signs of weakness. The moment you are unable to conform to the above some guests would pounce on you like vultures  and use you as an excuse to question the hotel’s reputation; some others would just ignore you for the rest of their vacation and escalate their issues to the higher-ups. Let us not forget the dangerous and deadly group who would resort to using websites like Trip Advisor, Expedia etc to tear into you relentlessly  and let the world know that they were not happy campers thanks to the substandard service they received or the fact that they did not get enough satisfaction with management’s resolution.

Everyone is looking for Quality and Value for their money spent which means that their expectations are greater than ever before. The Guest Relations Manager should always be prepared to step up and assist any front-of-the-house department in operations to ensure that guests receive a high standard of service and there are no glaring deficiencies staring at them to make the service below – expectations. It is always good to have working knowledge and experience in supporting departments before taking on the position of Guest Relations Manager.

What about the expectations of management and other departments? Ah! Never thought about that right?

The Food & beverage team expect the Guest Relations function ( Guest Relations / Concierge) to provide accurate and prompt information to guests and hustle if necessary to fill up the restaurants and thereby generate revenue. The Sales & Marketing team expect Guest Relations to jump in at short notice to conduct Site Inspections and be the point person for Groups in-house. The Front Office department requires the Guest Relations function to support them through the whole Guest Cycle: Pre – Arrival, Arrival, In – house and Departure and also to stand in for the Front Office Manager. The Executive team expects the Guest Relations Manager to be the Regular Duty Manager taking the initial blows from discerning guests and resolving the issues by being patient , empathetic, following up and most importantly following through.

The Guest Relations Manager should always be on the lookout for ways to enhance a guest’s vacation by asking the right questions not only on arrival, but also during interactions throughout their stay – at cocktail parties, afternoon teatime etc and also when they are fully relaxed by the beach and pool. Picking up valuable information like anniversaries and birthdays, special dietary requirements, hobbies and interests and using the same to surprise and WOW! guests by adding value to their stay is one of the major expectations of the Executive Team as far as Guest Relations is concerned.

Now, what is the best reward that you can get for performing all of the above consistently over a period of time? Most people might say monetary benefits like FAT TIPS from the guests, a bonus, salary raise, a mention on Trip Advisor or a complimentary letter to the Executive!! But is that what a true professional is looking for in terms of Job Satisfaction?

Recognition from Higher Management like a pat on the back, a simple Thank You from a guest for making their stay memorable promising to return and recommend to friends and family, a bear hug from a child who became attached to you during their stay – the pure satisfaction that you get out of such gestures is the biggest reward that a passionate and loyal Guest Relations Manager can ask for; whose integrity and commitment to excellence is always challenged by different  situations which are part and parcel of the hospitality industry.

Guest Relations is a specialist function and you are either blessed with the necessary skills and mindset for it or it is just not meant for you ….. its as simple as that!

Customer Service Cameos – The joy of Service!

December 4, 2012 6 comments

There are many more insights to share on the service experiences my friends and I enjoyed during last week’s trip through South Tamil Nadu. In case you missed the first one in the series please find it by clicking here.

After a 500+ km journey from Trivandrum our group reached Kodikarai (Point Calimere), which is a tiny hamlet consisting of fisher folk and families that worked at the Salt Pans, the lighthouse and for the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. The place also had a permanent Research Station of BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society) and a unit of Indian Defense Services.

The hamlet had two tiny restaurants to serve the town folk and occasional travelers like us. They were thatched huts and the price demanded for the simple but lovely food made us city folks wonder aloud about their business model – a sumptuous breakfast for 4 cost us Rs.71/-. Yes, you read right … Rs.71/-!!

We had tried one outlet for breakfast and the other, on the previous night, for dinner. After the bill was settled, with a shocked expression,  one of us offered the young boy, who served us (he must be 15 or 16 years of age), some money as a tip.

He was visibly embarrassed and pulled his hand away from the note as if it were a serpent. He said – “No, Sir! I don’t want it.” It was our turn to be embarrassed – that we had behaved in such an uncouth manner.

One of the locals seated in the restaurant gibed – “Stupid guy! If you don’t want the money I shall accept it on your behalf.”

But the young fellow stood his ground and refused the money – we knew that a few extra rupees would help and forced the money into his pocket saying “We enjoyed your service. This is just a small token of our appreciation for your work.”

Thinking about the event later on I felt that we lessened his worth and spirit by doing that! We had just behaved the way city-folks usually did, without giving merit to the situation.

But the next day at Rameshwaram we experienced the reverse of this phenomenon. The bellhops at the hotel pestered us non-stop for tips, that too when they had done nothing. The night we checked-in we had tipped the boy who carried our bags to the room and after checkout we had carried our own luggage to the car – no help was sought. But the staff followed us to the car and asked for money. This was a tourist town and the waiters were used to “begging” for some extra cash. This was embarrassing too.

We hear about cab drivers in certain cities who refuse to take the tip because they consider themselves ambassadors of the city. They say that the service charge is included in the fare and only the bill amount needs to be settled.

There are nurses who go way beyond the call of duty to bring relief to patients and their worried family members through exceptional acts of love and caring – and they do it without any expectations.

And, to be completely fair, we do hear about a few professionals in big corporations whose exceptional acts of service have bailed people out of all sorts of trouble – and they do it just out of passion, without expecting a quid pro quo or recognition, not even acknowledgement! They were just doing their job.

Before writing this article I viewed a video on a Chennai auto driver who took service to a different level – he was doing it in a city where the auto-drivers are usually called “cheats” and “extortionists” by most customers!

What makes these people different?

Why were they so passionate about their work – it seemed doing exceptional work was routine and gave them all the compensation?

Were they culturally tuned to not accepting freebies? Did they feel that it is demeaning to be tipped?

Was it because they were not yet corrupted by the ways of the world – they were not “smart” yet?

Were they believers of that oft stated, and never applied, cliché “Work is worship!”?

I would love to hear from all of you on this subject.

I found that young fellow’s behavior exceptional; did you?

Customer Service Cameos – Know your customer!

December 3, 2012 22 comments

Spent an extended weekend in South Tamil Nadu with three friends – the raison d’etre for our visit was Birding. We enjoy observing bird-life – in the last two decades our group has made innumerable visits to the forests and wetlands in South India to observe and record birds. The frequency of trips had dwindled since we became family-men and a serious effort is being made now to bring us up to speed once again.

Since 1989 we have also participated in the mid-winter waterfowl count conducted by the Asian Wetland Bureau – albeit a small contribution, that was our way of serving Mother Earth and supporting the larger effort made by national and international organisations to protect nature and wildlife.

I took great pains to describe the reason for a trip because a casual observer, who follows the group around, would think that we were out to discover all the eateries in the region visited – with a sheepish smile I admit that the person wouldn’t be far from the truth! A regular member of our group, who is currently based in Canada, described it well when he said – “Our group has regular places that we stop at for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A restaurant that is the breakfast stop is never an option for lunch – each outlet is chosen because it has specialties to suit one meal. The birding program is timed to suit meal stops at the favored restaurants.”

But let me quickly assure the readers that we do pursue our hobby (just in case you are still confused it’s Birding, not Gormandizing!) with the same gusto!

It took me more than 250 words just to get to the point and I did that for two reasons:

–          To tell you that the stops were major events (not to be trifled with) and

–          This backdrop will be used other articles that will be posted soon.

The two events described below don’t involve any of our usual haunts – we were first time visitors in these places.

The first day of the journey found us at a town named Ramanathpuram, Ramnad for short. We stopped for lunch after an extended drive through remote villages; bad roads ensured that we reached this town only after 3:45 and walking into a restaurant a few minutes before 4 p.m. we heard the owner say that they close on the hour. Nevertheless the hungry bunch settled down after washing off the dust and placed orders. The wait staff served the meal without complaint and gave us many rounds of buttermilk – the cooling elixir was tasty and the ideal rejuvenating tonic after a day in the Sun. It was after 4:30 that we left the restaurant, but the staff never ever grumbled for the delay caused – they obviously were tired after a busy lunch hour. It was a great message in service for us city-slickers.

But the best was yet to come!

The next day we had another outing in the Sun at Point Calimere (name given by the British to Kodikarai) – the birds congregate on Salt Pans, open grasslands and the seashore. There is no protection from the Sun when one is out to observe the feathered migrants who had reached here from far-off lands.

We had spent close to 5 hours in the open before heading for lunch at Vedaranyam, a small town located 11 kilometers from Point Calimere.

A few questions in town led us to the outlet Anantha Restaurant, owned by Tamilmani.

Buttermilk was the big hit again – garnished with ginger, coriander, onions and chilly it is a terrific coolant. One member of our group hates coriander and makes a huge display show of picking and tossing the irritating herb from his food. The owner observed this in the rounds that followed our friend got his drink sans the irritant.

Isn’t that a huge lesson in understanding customer preferences?

When the meal items arrived, as per order, they had no qualms in offering extras which were not usually included in that meal – our satisfaction was their priority, not their processes.

I remember asking for some non-standard items at restaurants in Cochin and in Mumbai and receiving a response that went – “Sorry Sir, we can’t give you pappad with the Biriyani.” or “Those curries can be served only when you order a Thali.”

Think of your own organisation – how often do you accommodate such requests from your customer?

For these guys such trivialities didn’t matter – they probably made an adjustment in the bill to accommodate the costs (but I think its unlikely, even insignificant, because the prices we paid in these smaller cities were way below what we were used to Cochin and Trivandrum) but that wasn’t the point. They never grumbled or complained and most importantly they didn’t have to say “No!” to the customer.

I know that there are times when customers are too demanding and expect organisations to go out of the way to keep them satisfied and even prestigious organisations have stumbled at such times; but we weren’t asking for much more than what was available and Tamilmani’s team was more than equal to it.

One of us had ordered a Biriyani while the others took the Thali – Tamilmani walked up to our table midway through the meal and told our Biriyani friend that he can have some of the items from the Thali if he wished. Damn! This guy was bringing tears to our eyes with his hospitality.

Who was teaching these guys Customer Service? Were they this way culturally or did they learn on the job?

How difficult is it for organisations to repeat such behaviours? Most times Customers were being denied even standard items. These guys were going way beyond specifications and behaving like that was standard practice.

Four happy customers left Anantha Restaurant singing praises of the man and his team.

The large organisations in this country have to return to the small towns in India to discover the essence of good service.

I salute people like Tamilmani – they seems to know the customer much more than the well-known Indian Corporations!

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