The cardinal rule of client relations is to KEEP IN TOUCH! There’s nothing worse than calling a client just to discover that they haven’t the slightest clue who you are. That’s clearly a fail on your part. Stay in touch with your clients. Keep the lines of communication open and engage them on a regular basis. Send out specials, coupons, promos, even informal emails saying thanks for being such a loyal customer. It works.
But hey, let’s not stop with current clients, keep the same frame of mind open for potential clients as well. There are many ways of doing this, but remember that every client is unique. Explore your client base and figure out the best ways to reach each type of client. What is the best way to maintain contact with clients who prefer email communication...well, yea that’s obvious, email. How about if they’re talkers? Well then, give them a call and have a conversation. Try your best to customize each client’s experience with your company.
When you interact with them in person, dress well and look good. Your clients are dressed in business attire so you and your delivery team should have a clean, polished look too. The only exception to the business professional look would be as we mentioned above if you’re operating a themed restaurant and your delivery team is in uniform.
Ensure that all your systems are working, whether client-facing or not. Most people in our industry are impatient. Few of us have tolerance for technology letdowns. Make sure your technology functions and everything works when you're near the client. If you’re using iPads for ordering or if you’re helping clients place online orders, do a run-through ahead of time to be sure that all systems are in order. You definitely don’t want to run into any snags while your clients sit over your shoulder watching, talk about embarrassing and unprofessional...not to mention one of those “small” things that can easily lose a great account.
When it comes to communicating with your clients, as we discussed previously, be upfront with them ALWAYS. If there's a delay in delivery, your driver should contact the client asap. The best thing to do is to explain the problem in detail and ask if there’s anything you can do to make things right for the client. (refer to the scenario outlined in the previous yard line). To make things right, maybe bring them a free boxed lunch next time. Or a platter of desserts for the office. Show them you care about the mistake and value them as a client. As always, make your clients feel like they're your only client. Sure you have hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe more...just focus on one at a time, none of them are less important than others...at least none of them should feel less important than others.
Another major issue when it comes to client relations is writing things down. Sure it sounds simple, but sometimes just a slip of the mind can send things spiraling out of control and like every mishap could potentially end with another lost client. So...write things down. Not only is it polite for your clients to see you writing things down, but it makes them feel valuable, showing them that you’re not willing to leave room for error. If I had to add a couple last tips I would say, keep your clients in the loop (I know I’ve said this again and again) and always say thank you (I know I’ve also said this again and again). Both are extremely important...yes on top of everything else I just piled on you. Clients who are informed and feel appreciated stay loyal, they’ll never forget you took the extra step...so take it.
When a potential customer is considering how your company stacks up against your competitors, food quality, variety, pricing, on-time delivery, reliability and consistency all matter. Your customer service reputation is equally important. “Outstanding Customer Service” will become part of your brand.
The person in charge of ordering lunch has a stake in the results. If anything goes wrong...late-delivery, no salad dressing, the missing veggie roll-up wrapped separately and labeled “Linda” was forgotten - guess who is the first person held responsible….yep, the person who ordered the lunch - your customer.
The person who orders catering may be lower on the totem pole for the company they work for, but they wield a lot of power in our world. Think of it like this.. The respect and service that you and your staff would accord the CEO of the company, should be the same to everyone you come into contact with at the company. Administrative assistants accounts payable staff, and front desk receptionists all should be treated with utmost and equal respect,
I did not know this until after the fact, but we once landed a two-week, three meals a day, for one hundred people gig because on one random day, the guy who ran the loading dock mentioned to someone in Human Resources, “On Thyme Catering really work their tails off for you. They told me once you are a very important account of theirs and they can never be late. You should see them in action when their van pull into a bay. Just by watching them, you can tell they really care.”
I had no idea that anyone is HR was responsible for ordering the catering for certain events. It was a fortunate, eye-opening lesson. (PS, the two-week gig billed out at $22,500).
TRUE STORY...From Michael Rosman. . .
I was attending a three-day workshop — Sales, Service and Survival in the Food Industry. One of the keynote speakers, a titan in the corporate drop-off catering world roared from the podium, “If you ever, and I mean ever, make a customer feel like they are interrupting your day, or that you have something more important to do, I guarantee that within three years, probably sooner, you will be a statistic.”
I shuddered, and thought, “If you injected me with truth serum, I would confess that occasionally I feel like a customer is interrupting my day.”
“What statistic?” someone asked from the audience. “Failed business ventures,” the titan retorted.
He proceeded to share some eye-opening facts.
* Studies show the number one reason a consumer stops doing business with a company is that they received poor service.
* Fifty percent of consumers reported that one negative service experience was enough to stop doing business with a company, altogether.”
* A survey was conducted of 400 corporate catering clients. They were asked to rank certain criteria and measure the importance of food vs. service. 75% of respondents said they would not do business a second time with a caterer who provided “excellent” food, but “poor” service. However, 85% said they would do business a second time with a caterer who provided “excellent” service, and “average to above-average food.”
He added, “It’s easy to say you want to build a successful catering business either independently or from an existing restaurant. Doing it is another thing. To have a shot, and I’m not talking about paying your bills and making an okay living, I’m talking about paying your bills, paying yourself a healthy salary, and producing a strong profit at the end of the year, there is one thing you must commit to with utter abandon. And If you can’t do this, you do not belong is this room. “In fact, I don’t even want you in this room. You can leave now and I’ll refund your money in full.”
Subtlety was apparently not a communication style he preferred.
He paused and visually surveyed the audience, almost daring anyone to take him up on his offer. No one said a word or moved an inch.
300 attendees, holding our collective breath, on the edge of our seats, waited for what was next. And you know what he said next? “First let’s break for lunch. The session will resume at 1:30.”
For real, this is what happened.
At 1:30, all 300 people were back in their seats. I made a mental note —if his technique was designed to ensure a high return rate after the lunch break, it worked.
Back on stage, he thundered, “To realize success in this industry, the single most important thing you must do, is make every single customer feel like they are your most important customer of the day. It is your job to make them feel special.”
“Hmm”...food for thought...
A FEW FACTS WORTH NOTING
Studies conducted by TARP, a highly respected customer service research firm, reveal the following:
- Customers are willing to pay more in exchange for better service.
- Satisfied customers will tell an average of five people about their positive experience.
- 95% of unhappy customers will do business with you again if you resolve their issue immediately.
- A typical business hears from about ten percent of its unsatisfied customers.
- 90% won’t bother to tell you.
- It costs five times more money to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.
- An average company loses between 10-20% of its customers annually.
- It takes ten positive service experiences to make up for one negative service experience.
- Dissatisfied customers tell an average of ten people about their bad service experience.
ENCOURAGE CUSTOMER FEEDBACK
90% of unhappy customers most often voice their dissatisfaction by simply ordering from a different caterer. You may never know the cost of their future business (and the potential business of family, friends, and colleagues), you have surrounded. Consequently, make it easy for customers to provide feedback.
Following are some options:
- A dedicated phone number for customer feedback
- Include a feedback flyer with every delivery. The flyer should direct them to an online survey on your website, Offer an incentive to encourage feedback.
- Are you ready for the BIG one? This may sound crazy in today’s world, especially to the younger generation, but here it is...Drum roll please... Pick up the phone and dial their number and have an actual conversation with your customers about their satisfaction level regarding your food and service. (Do I need to call an ambulance for anyone who may have gone into shock from this concept?...haha, but only sort of).
CUSTOMER SERVICE SUGGESTIONS
The essence of customer service is building a friendly and professional connection with your customers and nurturing these relationships by consistently doing the right thing at the right time.
1) Lead by example
It starts at the top. Owner(s), managers, and supervisors must exemplify exceptional customer service with every single customer, every single day. You need to set the bar. Employees will take their cues from the people they answer to. Never complain or speak negatively about a customer in front of employees. First, it sets a poor example. Second, you never know if someone personally knows the customer. Third, it gives your employees a license to do the same.
2) Answer the phone and emails
When the phone rings, answer it. Does this seem elementary? Let’s clarify. ALWAYS answer it. Before you open, after you close, on a Sunday when you are getting caught up. In some capacity, the call is usually about giving you business. This does not imply that if a customer calls at 6pm asking for proposal that you need to do it immediately. Simply explaining that you are closed for the day and that someone will return their call first thing in the morning should prevent them from calling a competitor. Plan to respond to all emails within the same day. If you need more time, email this information back to the customer, including when they can expect an answer.
3) Don't make promises you can’t keep (or reschedule them)
If you say, “I will email you a suggested menu proposal by 4pm tomorrow“ – do it. If you need more time, which does happen, let your customer know, before 4pm. For example “Hi Mary, we are putting together a very thorough proposal for you and it is taking longer than we anticipated. Would it be ok if you receive it by 10am tomorrow? Then make sure it is delivered accordingly.
4) Active Listening
Wait until your customer is finished speaking before you respond. Resist the urge to interrupt, which could make them feel rushed. Active listening is the art of rephrasing the key points of what your customer has said in the form of a question. For example: “So if I am hearing you correctly, you are feeding a group of very big eaters and you are less concerned about price per person, and more focused on quantity and variety?
5) Admit Mistakes
People actually respect those who admit mistakes and errors with no excuses attached. When something goes wrong, even if you are not sure where the problem occurred or who was involved, it is a good strategy to acknowledge at least the possibility of a mistake. The key is to do so in a short sentence and move on to how you are going to resolve the issue. An effective line is, “First, let’s get the problem solved as quickly as possible. Later we can discuss why it happened, and steps that can be taken to prevent it from ever recurring.
6) Go the Extra Mile
Going above and beyond the call of duty means doing something that is not required as part of your professional obligation. It is doing something special or extra. Customers, even difficult ones, often feel extreme gratitude and loyalty when you can demonstrate they are important enough to go beyond what is required. They may not always express it, but know that it usually makes a big impact.
7) Professional Staff
If you have a thorough training program that is documented and reinforced regularly, superb customer services skills are very teachable. Your entire staff should be empowered to actively address problems a customer might encounter. It’s all about the culture you create and a commitment to a rigorous training program.
8) Promote Familiarity
Have the same representative deliver to the same companies or areas as much as possible. This is a great way to build rapport and business relationships.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG: TROUBLESHOOTING & PROBLEM SOLVING
Mistakes, mix-ups, and miscommunications are going to happen. Often, how you handle a problem or an unhappy customer is the key to either righting the ship or making a bad situation worse.
DEAL WITH IT
Deal with problems head-on. Don’t run. Don’t hide. Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
WHEN YOU ARE ON THE PHONE WITH AN UPSET CUSTOMER
Let the customer speak. Do not interrupt. Do not try to defend your position. (There may be a time to do so, but now is not it.) Try this:
- Apologize: “I am sorry this happened.” (Yes, even if it is not your fault.)
- “Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”
- Repeat the Issue: “I understand you are regularly running out of napkins.”
- Validate: “I appreciate how frustrating this is for you.”
- Suggest Resolution: “Perhaps we should drop off a case of backup napkins and you can keep them in a safe place.. If you run short again, they will be available immediately”
- Act Quickly: Deliver the napkins within 24 hours.
WHEN THE DUST SETTLES
Follow up with the customer preferably by phone or at least by e-mail. Sometimes it makes sense to wait a day, but no longer. Often, by the next day, cooler heads prevail. From your customer’s perspective, yesterday’s lunch which was missing desserts may no longer feel so catastrophic. If the problem was on your end, share what steps you have taken to prevent a repeat occurrence.
TRY THIS - IT WORKS
“Thank you for being so gracious and understanding while we were getting the situation figured out.”
(It is difficult to remain upset after such a disarming statement.)
“[Company name], has been a good customer of ours for a long time. We are privileged to work for you, (customer first name.) The last thing I ever want to happen is to lose your business over________ (a tray of sandwiches).”
“This can be handled a number of different ways — which do you prefer? We can credit “x” amount from this order, apply a credit to your next order, deliver complimentary ________ whenever is best, or send you a gift certificate to our restaurant/cafe.” (if applicable)
“What’s most important is that you come away feeling the problem has been addressed and resolved. We will do whatever is necessary to continue our business relationship. Perhaps you have another thought(s) rather than the few I mentioned?
And always end with this;
“Are you satisfied with how this has been handled?”
GROUND RULES FOR SUCCESS
Involve your staff in this process. By doing so, they will work hard towards successful implementation.
Your front line employees should be very invested in the success of the customer experience. The goal is for every person in your operation to consistently provide an outstanding experience for your customers, regardless whether you are standing next to them, or sipping Pina Coladas in the Caribbean.
Consider these action steps:
- Establish a date, time, and place for company meetings about customer service.
- Encourage employee participation. Ask about the some of the challenges they encounter with their customers and how they handle them?
- Ask everyone to share their own experiences of poor vs. great customer service, and give specific examples.
- Together, brainstorm a list of customer service do’s, don’ts and best practices.
- Create a poster with the group’s code for customer service and post it in an employee-designated area (out of sight from customers).
- Train your employees and reinforce positive performance.
WHEN THE CUSTOMER IS WRONG
The customer is NOT always right. There - someone finally said it. If the customer is “grossly exaggerating the truth” and wants something in return, or is being abusive to an employee, or simply has unreasonable expectations – they are not right. Handling these situations without losing a customer requires a delicate balance of finesse and backbone, but it is possible. Let’s take a look at a scenario and see how playing it right should result in both sides feeling good about the resolution.
THE SITUATION: A Customer Wants to Cancel a Lunch Order at 10:30am
Customer Calls: “Hi, this is Kate from ABC Financial. I’m sorry that I’m calling so late. We ordered lunch for delivery today at noon. My boss just asked me to call and cancel. He is taking his clients out to a restaurant instead.”
Employee: “Hi, Kate, this is Michelle. I actually just checked out your order and it’s being loaded in the delivery truck as we speak.”
Customer: “I don’t understand. It’s only 10:30. Our lunch isn’t scheduled for delivery for another hour and-a-half.”
Employee: “You are absolutely right, Kate. I am looking at today’s master delivery log and your lunch is scheduled for noon. For us to make that delivery time, our trucks leave between 10:45 and 11:00. It takes about ten minutes to get to your building, sometimes more with traffic. By the time we get onto your loading dock, go through security and get an elevator to your floor, it’s just about that time. And we like to allow a few minutes to set the lunch up for you, if you would like.”
Customer: “When I called to place the order, I was told I could cancel it anytime.” Employee: “Hmm, that would not have been us, Kate. Possibly it was another catering company that you do business with.”
Customer: “So you’re telling me that I can’t cancel the lunch.”
Employee: “Once your order had been prepared, you have a few options. I see you have sandwiches, potato chips, and beverages for 20 people. We’d be able to deliver just the sandwiches and take the chips and drinks off the bill. We could also include some individual take-out containers. Perhaps you could give some other folks in the office a sandwich for lunch, or even to take home. Or, we could get creative together. We would be happy to deliver the lunch to a client of yours that perhaps you want to express appreciation to, or to a potential customer you are hoping to do business with. All we need is the delivery information, and we will “wow ‘em” for you.”
Customer: “Hmm...o.k. lemme talk to my boss and I’ll call you back.”
Employee: “Great, Kate, Thanks! Would it be possible to get back to me in the next 5
to 10 minutes so we can still make our noon delivery time?” Customer: “Yep, I’ll call you right back.” Employee: “Thanks again!”
- The employee successfully accomplished the following:
- Explained the status of the order.
- Explained the logistics of the time frame required to make the delivery.
- Offered an alternative explanation to how the customer “misunderstood” the cancellation policy.
- Never say the word, “No”, even when directly asked, “So you’re telling me I can’t cancel the lunch.”
- Offered three solutions, allowing the customer to make the decision.
- Remained calm, professional and emotionally detached.