Written by Milt Miller – The opportunity to chat with students, is one of the greatest perks in my profession. Its always amazing how they view their school café’. Many times, it is nothing like what management and staff believe they think. What’s wrong with this picture, is that neither side, students or staff, makes an effort to discuss what they think. Both groups just continue to cling to their own perceptions. Believe me customers want to tell you what they think and what they need in a food operation, if you are brave and open minded enough to ask.
According to a national survey, I once read, on the top ten reasons why customers keep coming back, the top three really screamed customer service. The top three reasons were, customers have a sense of belonging, they are recognized by management and staff, and they always feel welcome. Looking at the definition of customer service we find it is the provision of services to customers before, during, and after the sale, a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction, and a set of strategies to ensure that a product or service has met the expectations of the customer. Customer service is much more than handing someone their tray with a smile. Its all about creating an atmosphere in which patrons feel they belong, are recognized as important, and they are welcome again and again. This atmosphere encompasses more than just the provision of service. It is all about shaping customer perception.
I’m reminded here, how I learned the concepts of customer service. I learned them by imitating what some of my employees were doing and incorporating their successes into my entire operation. When I think customer service, I think of two women in particular. These two women took over a failing Alternative School dining program, and took it from 20% participation to over 80% participation in three months, just with legendary customer service. You may be doubting those numbers, I would have too, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. They accomplished this feat by doing three simple things, which I mentioned previously.
Understand your customer’s needs and expectations and create an atmosphere in which they feel they belong. Take the time to talk with your patrons and find out what they need and expect. Making them feel like their expectations are important, makes them feel they are appreciated and creates a feeling of belonging.
Know your customers and what their interests are. Knowing your customers by name and a little about what makes them tick, also creates an atmosphere of caring and belonging. “How was the game last night?”, “Are you ready for your test tomorrow?”, “We are having stir fry tomorrow and I know that’s your favorite, so I knew you would want to know.”, or “How’s your Mom? I heard she had surgery, I hope she is ok.” Treating customers as individuals and showing that you have taken the time to get to know them, shows how important they are. You don’t have to pander, coddle, or be patronizing, just be human and caring, as if they were guests in your home. Know them for the individuals they are. Be glad to see them and show them you remember if they are dining with you or if they were absent. “Hey, I missed you Friday, is everything ok?’
Be genuinely happy to see them. Too many times we take our customers for granted. Let them know you are glad they are there and that they are welcome. Remember they are students, who are free to make choices on where to dine, not inmates. A welcoming environment greatly increases participation. If you don’t feel welcome somewhere do you keep going back? I don’t and neither will your customers.
These are all no cost, high impact ideas, that drive participation. Try them they really make a difference. If you need more information or help, go to our website at www.foodserve.com, to see all of the great training programs available that address these issues, or give me a call.
Milt Miller is Director of K-12 Operations at Food Service Solutions, Inc. Throughout his 33 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For a school food service operation consultation, contact Milt at www.foodserve.com/school-food-program-assessment.html.