Just picture this if you can.  A woman in her thirties, well overdue for a good nights sleep, patiently waiting but definitely not with a happy carefree attitude for the 10:30am lunch service at a fast food restaurant. I was less than the ideal customer for anyone. Truly just a shell of who I really am as a person.

We were on a southbound trek for Pensacola beach. Roadtrips with the little ones aren’t at the top of my list for relaxing activities. A trip that was at first billed as an overnight car seat ride to the magical land of fun and sand has been extended to a 2 day ride for car seat freedom. What should take 4 1/4 hours will take nearly 7 with stops.  Eleven hours total for two days.  I know at this point in parenthood I should just accept life with children takes longer. I still fight trying to make things run smoother, be easier, and just function in a more streamline manner.  Managing a gaggle of people’s needs is just time-consuming.

But in this moment of standing I am in line for food. All the employees are smiling. Even smiling at me! Me, this tired, sighing, fighting to keep upright person.  We get our food and no less than 3 people offer to take my food out to the car.  And even though I say “no thank you” repeatedly a woman comes out from behind the counter and says to me with the most genuinely wonderful smile “we won’t let you leave without helping you.  I will carry it to your car for you.”

As I looked at this sweet soul helping me, even though I denied the need, I could tell she honestly wanted to help me. not just go though the motions and do her job. And I was grateful.  As we walked to my car, I thought back to the many experiences I have had at this particular chain of restaurants. They have all been great. Everywhere, across the country.  What made this more special was that, on this particular day, I actually needed their “more”.  More than just food and drinks. More than just ketchup and napkins.  I needed a warm friendly environment to recharge the weakend batteries of family life.  I needed what makes them special.  So I take this moment to say thank you to Brittany and  the Chik-fil-a team at EastChase in Montgomery, Al.  You made the day better for my family.

This was a perfect example of employee culture and customer service.

Whether or not you are in the food service industry, there is a lot to be learned from this blessed interaction. So class, put on your thinking caps.For my simplified mind, business can be broken down into 3 separate categories.

1. Service – the product or benefit we provide customers
2. Company/employee culture – the dynamic team environment that provides a nurturing environment for employees to grow skills and develop working relationships
3. Customer service – providing the little extra thing that meets your customers specific extra need

Good customer service builds loyalty. It’s makes customers more relaxed when something does go wrong because past experience has built a trust relationship already. A company needs fewer first time customers if they retain more of their customer base. Advertising costs go down because your loyal customers become walking billboards, bringing in new business from their credible reviews.

But the best part is….

Customer service and employee culture are the two sides of the same coin.

By enriching company culture, you are empowering the Employee’s need to understand they are more than just salesmen but instead that they are instrumental in enhancing the lives of their customers. No matter how insignificant the interaction between the two can be. Also, company culture and interaction provides a safety net within the employee relationship structure to know how to support one another for the goal of the business.

But…

The way to teach this appreciation is to give appreciation.  In order for appreciation and gratitude to roll down to the customers level, you must first appreciate your staff. Provide ample training, a healthy work environment – physically and mentally.  And enough staff for the rigors of working to not be overly strenuous.  Mental and physical fortitude are built – not born.  Employees must be nurtured into productivity.  Give positive feedback regularly. Daily. Hourly if necessary.  Teach your employees to care for others by caring for them.  And compensate them in multiple ways.  Not everyone works for the money.  Know what drives your employees, meet those specific needs and your business will flourish.

They also need to be confident in their ability to meet the needs of the customer themselves or know where to turn for help. Your Company representatives,ie employees,should be provided with not only their service’s information but also proper scripting for those customer interactions.  They should be shown how to say “let’s get the managers help” instead of “uhhh, I don’t know”.  They should be given the guidance of how to have a meaningful interaction with each customer. Eye contact, appropriate tone, respectful words and mannerisms.  And most of all to smile, unless to smile would be irreverent. Every employee from the janitorial staff to the CEO should understand how to serve the customers better.

It is also the company’s duty to be certain they are not understaffed.  Many customer related problems could be fixed if there was someone there to assist when needed or to fix a problem before a customer gets into the picture.  If a business is running short-handed, problems will always creep in.  Either expand your staff or simplify your service.  It is better to be great in the detail than poor in the broad stroke.

To love your staff, is to love your customers.

So take a cue from Chik-fil-a. See the person doing business with you, not their wallet, and customers will become forever grateful.