Times Are Changing for the Service Industry

The meltdown of the financial system, collapse of the housing industry, massive unemployment, and the lingering recession we find ourselves mired in. These are the factors that are going to change the service industry forever, for the better I believe.

Service based businesses are going to find that people are going to spend money, but, they will reserve the expenditures for companies or individuals that they genuinely like and treat them as valued customers.

The days of not caring if a customer calls you back or gives your company name as a referral are over. Those two things will soon be the difference between life or death for a service business.

Mrs. Smith will tell friends that you are a great service provider if in fact you are a great service provider, it will take more than a low – low price to get the job, it will take excellent service and a skill set that includes listening and customer service.

Referrals are gold and having customer reviews are absolutely necessary, as necessary as a business card and a website.

If you believe that time is money you soon will find that the time spent getting to know Mrs. Smith will be invaluable. People do business with people that they like or a business a friend of theirs likes.

Timely arrivals at jobs, friendly demeanor, respectful tone, and real compassion for the problems you are there to help solve. These people have called you for help and they do not need the fast talking, rub their nose in the problem, and take as much money as you can get and run approach.

Be a real person and relate to the problems at hand. Give your opinion as a real opinion not slanted at making as much money as you can, but better slanted toward the customer getting the absolute best service at the best price.

A win – win situation. For the customer, they get value and quality, for the business, you get a customer that will refer your company, will be happier with the final results, and be a repeat customer for the long term success of your business.

The reality today is that consumers have had a hard time surviving, as have many businesses, the level of disposable income may be less but the needs that a consumer must fulfill have not changed, if anything that cost has gone up.

Your service, although needed, if considered a luxury can be put off until better economic conditions prevail. You as a service professional need to elevate the value and quality of the services you provide along with the personal touch of being genuine and friendly. Personal touches will win repeat customers.

Your customer will spend money, your job is not only to provide a great service and customer experience it is to provide a great value to your customer.

The Service Industry Entrepreneur Employee

My definition of a Service Industry Entrepreneur Employee is very simple: “An individual who, rather than working as an employee, takes ownership of their work, just as much as an individual who owns and runs a business.” Why is having such an individual on your team important? Well, if you feel like you are “doing all the work around here”, you need to keep reading.

Have you ever been frustrated by an employee who could perform better? But they aren’t. Perhaps they could become your best employee, best server, best bartender, best cook. But they aren’t. They could be a manager someday, and a great one, but they aren’t ready to make the jump? You see more in them than they see in themselves. Sound familiar? I’ve been in that same situation. So, why aren’t they? Because they don’t believe they can. They do not have an entrepreneurial mindset. There are various reasons for this. As managers, we can eliminate some and replace them with entrepreneurial empowerment.

Many people, employees, mid-level managers, and even top executives could accomplish something more, something great. But they don’t. Why? Because they are too attached to being comfortable. They’re comfortable where they are, and performing how they are performing. They are so attached to their current job level that it becomes a part of their identity, and it’s not always a good one: “I’m just a cook”, “I just wait tables”, “I’m only an assistant manager, not the real boss”. These employees allow themselves to be defined by their job, their income, their status in the workplace. And it hurts them. They’re comfortable doing what they are doing and it might be easy for them to do their job, but they’re not happy. And they work for you. Congratulations. Over 73% of your younger employees, when asked about their strengths and weaknesses, will focus on their weaknesses. This is higher than any previous employee group surveyed. (Time, September 28, 2012, “Note to Gen Y Workers”, Jane and Marcus Buckingham)

Odds are that if you are reading this, you are “the boss”, the manager, the person with the accountability and the responsibility for the performance of these types of people. And society reinforces the perception these employees have of themselves at almost every turn. Here is a simple example. What’s the most common question that people ask when they strike up a conversation with someone they’ve just met: “So, what do you do?” I have managed tens of thousands of employees and worked one on one with hundreds of managers. And I still sometimes find myself asking that question too. Oops. Worse yet, I have heard guests and customers ask my employees “So, what else do you do?”, like their current job is not good enough. Wow. Now there’s a self-esteem booster for your full time, key employees. I’ve seen the faces of some of them as they walk away from the table or guest after hearing that. Have you ever slowed down enough in your busy day Mr. or Ms. Manager to notice, or to care?

So, how do you help employees with this emotional aspect of the business? You don’t help fix it for them. They help themselves. You allow them the freedom to have, what I once heard coined, the “Entrepreneurial Mindset”. This is the freedom to think and act like an owner in their workplace. Most employees in the service industry never have this freedom. Ever.

Hospitality employees are usually younger, the “generation y”, the “millenials”, the “teacup employees”. They are thought of as delicate and pampered and easily shattered. They always “got the trophy for finishing the soccer season”, not for winning the championship. You and I have probably heard the same stories and the same analogies. The topic has been beaten to death in management-oriented writing. I cannot claim to be anywhere near an expert on the topic. But I do know one thing: people like to feel good about themselves. And I have worked with many younger employees. They’ve told me many things. The most recurring item is also the most emotional: they want what they do to mean something, and they want to feel important. That trophy, which was the same as every other kid’s, didn’t make them feel good. The “helicopter parents” who hovered over their every move, and told them how good they were for taking that test, “C-” score and all, didn’t make them feel good. How do I know? I talk with them.

I once heard one of my best employees, Steve, answered that guest question “what else do you do” with “Oh, I’m just a waiter.” I winced as I walked past. I hoped the guests didn’t notice. My coaching piece with Steve later was as simple as it was true. I said “Steve, seriously ‘Just a waiter’? In my restaurant, each server brings in over $31,000 a year in revenue. You are a full time employee, and a valued one, your contribution is probably about double that figure. This is a multi-million dollar restaurant. And you help make it run every single day.” Steve was important to my business.

So, yes. Your employees certainly mean something to somebody. They are certainly important to somebody: you. Do you tell them how important they are? Do you say “Thanks” to each employee for one small thing every day, hopefully some behavior you are trying to encourage? Be honest with yourself, and no crossing your fingers under the desk.

Let’s examine a common service industry scenario and apply the entrepreneurial mindset to it: the “problem table”. Don’t pretend that you never get them. We all do. So, pretend Steve works for you. He is 21 years old. He comes to you with a long list of complaints from one of his tables: “The food came out cold, the bartender made their drinks wrong, they say it is too cold in here, and they’re really mad”. Then Steve stops. He stops speaking. He also stops thinking, and moving. So, what do you do? Oh: you fix it. You get tell the cooks to get fresh hot food working. You turn the air conditioner warmer. You tell the bartender to remake those drinks. Then you get right out there to the dining room and visit that table and grovel for a while. What exactly does Steve do? He does what he was trained to do by almost every restaurant I know of: tell the manager. This is followed by doing absolutely nothing, except perhaps to complain about the table to his coworkers. At what point does Steve have freedom to act? Is he allowed to fix these problems himself? Do you let him? Do you trust him? And if that answer is no by the way, why do you let him continue to be the face of your business to the public?

Okay. I do admit that, yes, someone else other than Steve has to fix the A/C issue. But Steve’s freedom to act on everything else is up to you. Is the culture in your workplace “I got it”? “I” meaning you in this example. Or, is it “What have you done to fix things so far, Steve?” Do you let him ring up the new food first to expedite time, and to offer the guests some soup or a salad “on me” so they do not sit hungry and unhappy at an empty table? Can Steve ring in another round of drinks without checking with you first? If not, why not? If it’s a theft issue, remember what I just said: Steve “rings up” everything. He just doesn’t “ask” the bartender or cook for it. There is an accounting control there. You must remove it from the bill later, before it’s presented. Financial risk: minimized. Steve: empowered. He is in control, like an owner of his table and all that happens with it. Steve is then an entrepreneur in a most basic description of the word: “Entrepreneurs take initiative, accept risk of failure and have an internal focus of control”-Albert Shapero, 1975. Steve has been trained and allowed to take care of the guest first, then inform the manager, and worry about the rest later. So when Steve goes back to the table he doesn’t say “I’m sorry. A manager will be over shortly.” Instead, Steve says “I’m sorry. This is what I’ve done to make things right for you… “

Answer these simple questions. In which situation does Steve feel important, needed and successful? In which case is Steve given the ability and flexibility to use an entrepreneurial mindset? More importantly, in which situation would you like to be that guest?

You might be saying “But that wouldn’t work in my restaurant.” Really? Why not? Truths are timeless. Here is one you have probably already heard: You’re either growing or dying. It’s true of people. It’s true of plants. Managers need to allow people to grow. Yet, you can’t nurture people to grow, develop, and become better if you do not have a system and culture in place that permits it. You’re either growing or dying. There is no staying the same. People who say “I want things to stay as they are” just don’t get it. They’re too comfortable. The only time people are comfortable is when they are not doing anything new.

Give your employees the freedom to act beyond the boundaries of “normal”. Allow them to be uncomfortable with the “new normal”. And they will grow. Will Steve be uncomfortable taking ownership of “problem tables”? Yes. Will he feel empowered after a few successes at it? Definitely. And if he fails, will you support him, coach him, and retrain if necessary, or will you just say “You tried really hard, Steve. Nice job.” Then give him the same trophy as all the other kids got at the end of soccer season?

There are many of you reading this that will be saying this is too simple to work, or it can’t be done, or blah, blah, blah… ” Apparently, you might just be too comfortable with the status quo yourself. People are always comfortable setting repeats, not records. You have to take a leap of faith.

Managers manage in the moment. Leaders develop, learn, teach, and grow for long term impact. They take risks. I challenge you to find it in yourself to be that leader, to get out of your comfort zone. Become an agent of change, and improvement, for your employees. Become an entrepreneur yourself. “Entrepreneurs are innovators who use a process of shattering the status quo… “-Joseph Schumpeter, 1934. Truths are timeless: If you don’t exhibit leadership and do it, your employees won’t exhibit leadership and do it. Then, someone else, perhaps your boss, might just be looking at you someday, thinking “This business needs to grow and to perform at a higher level. And that manager is just too attached to being comfortable to try anything new. He could be such an impactful leader, but he’s not. I see more in him than he sees in himself.”

Let that not be you.

How to Be Successful in the Service Industry

Wondering how to make your splash in the sea of service providers in the market today? It’s true what they say-it really is all about customer service. Here are some tips to keeping your customers happy and returning for more of the service you provide:

Be friendly.

Remember that when a customer hires your company, they are not just paying for the service; they’re paying for you. Of course, they expect the job to be done right, but they also expect you and your employees to be friendly, courteous, and respectful in each and every correspondence and point of contact you make with them. From the secretary who answers the phone when they call to make an appointment to the person who shows up at their door to provide the service, they expect smiles, greetings, and common courtesy. Think of this as an integral part of the service you’re providing, and you’ll be giving yourself and your business a leg-up on the competition.

Be professional.

No matter what service you are providing to your customer whether it be a manicure, a house cleaning, or a septic tank service, you and your employees should conduct themselves with professionalism at all times. This means dressing appropriately and professionally, managing communication with the customer politely and effectively, and handling the customer’s possessions with care and respect. If you are good at what you do, but fail to exude professionalism, your business will suffer as a result.

Be dependable.

Make sure your customers can depend on you to provide services when you say you will. For instance, if you state that your office hours are from 10-5 everyday, don’t leave at 4:45 because if and when the phone rings, you will likely have lost a customer. If you promise to provide a specific service, no matter how small, make sure that it is done and done right every time. Keep your appointments, and never be late. If you’re reliable and dependable, your customers won’t have the need to call your competitors.

Guarantee your services.

Give your customers confidence in their decision to hire you by guaranteeing your services. You can either offer them a money-back guarantee if they’re dissatisfied for any reason, or at the very least, assure them that you will make right on any mistake or less-than-quality service. If they know you stand by your work, then they’ll feel much more comfortable paying you for your service.

Offer a competitive price.

Even if you offer impeccable service in a dependable and professional way, your business may still find itself gasping for air if you don’t offer a competitive price. Do your homework and find out what other service providers in your area and in your niche are charging, and then match or beat their price. Starting out, you should offer the lowest price you can while still turning a profit-at least until you build your brand, your reputation, and your customer base.

Follow-up.

To maintain your customer base, you need to be sure to provide service even after the sale. Don’t assume that a one-time customer will return to you for future business, even if you did a great job. Make the effort to keep your brand in the back of their mind. For instance, you could call a few weeks after the service to see if your customer is completely satisfied. Or, perhaps you could send monthly reminders for follow-up services or “Thank You” cards to communicate your appreciation for their business. These seemingly small efforts, when performed consistently could potentially result in a hefty return on future business.

The most important thing to remember when working in the service industry is that the service itself is only half of your business. What’s the other half? You and your employees. If the customer likes your work but finds your customer service lacking, they may look elsewhere and even pay a higher price for a company who acts as if they appreciate their business. Slap on a smile, shake hands, and bite your tongue if you have to-whatever it takes to keep the customer happy. The happier your customers are, the more likely they will spread the word about your business, and return to you for future service calls. And what does that mean for you? A healthier-and happier-bottom line.

How Quality Can Dictate Price in the Service Industry

In the service industry, one business basically provides the same service as another business. Take the valet business for example, they all take your vehicle and move it to a central location until you return, when the valet retrieves your vehicle and brings it back for you. This is the basic process for all valet services. So what can set one company apart from another? Simply stated, it is quality. It is the extras that they put into the service that separates one company from their competition.

Every service industry must understand what they can do for their customer that is above and beyond the basic service. This becomes even more important when you want to sell your service not simply based on the service you offer but also by the extras. These extras give you the opportunity to sell your service at a higher price. These extras to the service truly cost nothing on a day to day basis but add value to your customer. Yes, there is the potential for extra expenses in training the staff to complete these added touches to the service but generally they are limited and more than pay for themselves over time. However, these extras cannot be something that is simply talked about, they must be present everyday in the service. Not only will your current customers be looking for this higher level of service, your service can and will act as a form of advertising your service. This is truly how you dictate your price in the service industry. Offer added value to the basic service, provide those added values and let potential customers see the service in action.

In order to get to a point where you have control over pricing there are a few things you need to do. First, understand what your basic service is. This may seem like a simple thing but it is essential in determining what your extras are and what you can sell as extras. Second, what does your competition offer in terms of added value to their services? This is true in a business whether it be service, manufacturing or retail, you must know your competition. Third, really spend time determining what value added aspects you can provide in order to differentiate your company. Keep in mind that with the ever changing world of technology, this may be every changing as well.

In the global market of today and with competition being at such high levels, you have to find ways to take your service business to a level that sets it apart. As stated in the beginning, anyone can offer the basics, it is the extras that will help your business thrive and grow.