The Key to Making Your Customer Service Produce Raving Fans

If you were to give yourself a grade between 1-10 (high), how high would you grade yourself on the hospitality/friendliness scale? How about your company as a whole? Your sales team? Your admins? Your call center? Your customer service team?

If you want to attract and retain more customers, as well as generate more word of mouth referrals, those are the kinds of critical questions you have to ask and answer. Unfortunately, they’re the kinds of questions that few businesses spend much time asking and answering … to their detriment.

I was reminded of this, once again, when my wife and I recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary at Halls Chophouse in Charleston, SC. The entire experience was so well executed by the Hall’s team that it was clear why they’ve earned the reputation that have.

In fact, when I posted a picture of my wife at Halls Chophouse on my Facebook page, a friend from Washington DC, Stefan Wiltz, wrote,We went to dinner there a couple years ago….best dinner we’ve ever had hands down!!!”

So, how can you generate more of that kind of buzz and enthusiasm? Well, here are a few lessons from our experience at Halls and the power of some good ol’ Southern hospitality.

I. Revisit Your Vision and Values

Great hospitality/friendliness/customer service doesn’t just happen. It begins with the person (or persons) at the top (and their top team), valuing it. In fact, if you go to the Halls Chophouse About page, you’ll read, “The Hall Family values the importance of true hospitality and comfort. With an experienced team from the kitchen to the dining room, Halls Chophouse offers superior dishes, service and an atmosphere that will entice our guests to stay, enjoy and come back time and again.”

In other words, when the Halls family set out to create their restaurant, their vision was to offer a restaurant that featured “true hospitality.” They didn’t say their vision was to make as much money as possible (though I’m sure they’re making a fair amount of money) or to be the #1 restaurant in America (how can anyone define that) or to be the dominant player in the Charleston, SC market. No, they simply said that wanted to offer their guests superior dishes, service and an atmosphere of hospitality that would entice those same guests to keep coming back time and time again. In other words, great hospitality always starts with vision.

So, when you look at your vision, what part does customer service/hospitality/friendliness play? If it’s not at the top of your list, chances are it won’t happen. Other things will quickly crowd out service if it’s not foundational to the culture of your business. And all culture flows down from the person at the top of any business or organization.

II. Make Sure Your Words and Actions Are Genuine

When we entered Halls Chophouse, after we were greeted by the hostess (which I’ll come back to in a moment), one of the sons of the Hall family, Billy, came over to greet us—and it was probably the best greeting we’ve ever received in any restaurant ever (and we like to eat at nice restaurants).

When Billy came toward us, he had that warm southern smile that’s hard to describe apart from seeing it. He then reached his hand out to shake my hand and then put his other hand on top of it and said, with all sincerity, “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, we are so delighted you’ve chosen to celebrate your 30th anniversary here with us at Halls Chophouse. My name is Billy and if there’s anything I can do to help make your stay with us better, just let me know.”

After a little banter back and forth, as Jacquie and I were starting to walk up the stairs to our table, Billy once again said, “Mr. Johnson, I’m serious. If there’s anything I can do to make your stay with us more comfortable, just let me know, even if it’s just to take your coat for you.”

As a former northern (for the first 51 years of my life), I’m still taken back by Southern hospitality. It’s hard to describe, but the genuineness of Billy’s words came across to me as rather remarkable. He didn’t act or speak as if rushed or on his way to do something else. His words didn’t come across as if he was just “doing his job.” The way he handled himself came across, as if, for those 60 seconds, we were the two most important people in the world to him. Now, Billy could have been faking it (I can’t judge what was going on in his head), but it didn’t come off that way at all. It just felt genuine..

So as you look at your team, how genuinely do they come across in demonstrating care for the people they’re interacting with or not?

If your experience is anything like mine, when you call a company and get a customer service rep, you can immediately detect if the person on the other end of the line is one of those for whom this is just a job or one of those rare people who genuinely cares and wants to help you. One leaves a good taste in your mouth; the other … not so much.

III. Put the Right Systems in Place So People Feel Cared For

As Jacquie and I were walking in (before Billy greeted us) we were greeted by the hostess who was the first to comment to us about our anniversary. But she wasn’t the last. I didn’t count that evening, but I’m guessing that somewhere between 7-8 of their staff came by and made some comment, at some point in our visit, about our anniversary. You and I both know that didn’t happen by accident. I made a comment about our 30th anniversary in our reservation on Open Table and they made sure each person in the process knew that information.

Now, before you pass by that simple statement, I don’t know your experience, but I make comments like that (birthday, anniversary, big event) all the time in the notes section of Open Table and rarely do the staff at any of those restaurants we’ve attended make a comment. And if someone does, it’s usually one person (typically, the server for our table). However, I’ve never been anywhere where 7-8 different staff made a comment based on what I had submitted. Yet, because so many did at Halls, the overall feeling Jacquie and I felt from Halls was that they really cared (even though you and I know it was all part of a system).

However, that wasn’t the only system set up to make us feel cared for. For example, when our server, C.J. (a fellow Italian) came up to thank us at the end of our meal, he handed me his card and said, “Mr. Johnson, here’s my personal business card along with my cell phone number. If there’s anything I can do to help you here at Halls or with anything, just let me know, even if you just need someone to help you move something.”

Again, that didn’t just happen. It’s part of their system. In fact, when Jacquie and I leaving, Billy did the same thing. As we were walking out the door he said, “Wait a second.” He then went back in and came out with his card and said, “Mr. Johnson, this is my personal card. If there’s anything I can do to help you, just let me know.” System.

Watching the room, it looked like their system is a 2-to-1 ratio of servers per table. Though we only had one (as a twosome), watching a table of six, for example, when their food came out, three people came out at once with their food so everyone was served at relatively the same time (good system). Another system that worked was that everyone watched every table. So, if our server C.J. wasn’t around and a plate needed to be removed or we needed something extra, someone was always there. Looking around the room, there were plenty of serving staff in the room at any time so we never had to wait. It was seamlessly. And all part of a system that made us feel cared for at every juncture of the experience.

So, as you’re looking at your business, what kinds of systems could you put in place to make sure your customers/clients feel genuinely cared for throughout the entire process?

IV. Pay Attention to Atmosphere

If you don’t have a physical location, this principle won’t matter as much to you (though having a good website can make a difference if your entire business is online). However, if you have a physical space, remembering that location is theatre is a great principle to remember if you want people to feel cared for.

In the case of Halls, the feeling of a classic steak house with rich wood panelling, great lighting and live music with a piano player and a saxophonist set the right atmosphere. The booth we sat in had plush leather seating that wasn’t your 10 or 20 minute stiff wood chair that so many restaurants use to move people in and out fast.

At no point in our experience at Halls were we rushed or bothered. The time in between courses was just about perfect. We didn’t feel rushed from course to course nor did we feel like we were waiting and wondering when the next course would arrive. We were simply out enjoying a romantic evening … and they knew that.

Finally, if you’ve ever read my comments on customer service you know that I use the bathroom as my quick test for discerning if a business really cares about their customers (because it’s a cost center). The quality of the bathroom, the materials used, the lighting, the cleanliness, the towels, and most importantly, the bathroom tissue all tell a story of care or non-care. In the case of Halls, they passed with flying colors. 

Basically, from the beginning to end of our experience, the Halls Chophouse team did a phenomenal job. There were no missed steps.

So, as you look at your own business, how can you take your physical space and make it communicate that you care deeply for your customers?

Well, there you have it. Four ideas from Halls Chophouse in Charleston, SC that can help you take your customer service to the next level, remembering that the real key to customer service is genuine care and hospitality.

Oh, and one last idea, If you really want to attract and retain more customers, while generating more word of mouth advertising, you may want to take these four principles (and the Halls story) with you to your next staff meeting and discuss how you might become the Halls of your community or industry.

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some other ideas about how to generate more hospitality and friendless—or if you have a favorite customer service experience you’d like to share, make sure you share them in the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email or RSS feed)

P.P.S. While my post was/is about the experience we had at Halls, I do want to mention that the food was pretty phenomenal as well. I had a dry-aged New York Strip steak that converted me. I’m a seafood guy so I tend to go the seafood route when eating out, but that NY Strip steak may just change some of my future choices 🙂