Recently I went to dinner with my family at a chain restaurant, nothing too fancy, just a sit-down place you’ve all probably heard of. Our server was a tall, young man named “Marshall.” Marshall was very excited to see us. He had charm and patter and read off the day’s specials from the back of his order pad.

Marshall took our drink orders and left us to the review the menus. So far, so good, right? When we were ready to order, the trouble began.

“I’ll have this,” I said, pointing to a picture on the menu. “What kind of dressings do you have for the salad?”

“Uh, let’s see… ” Marshall began. “Ranch, bleu cheese, Thousand Island . . .”

“Vinaigrette?” I asked.

“I don’t think we have that,” he said. So I made another selection and Marshall rushed off to place our order.

At the table behind us, another family was seated and “Phillip” introduced himself as their server. Phillip had obviously been there a long time today. His apron showed a few stains and he had an expression that said he was “over it” as he rattled off the specials like they were as familiar as his own name. He was weary and didn’t have the charm Marshall showed us. When it came time to order dressing for the salad, a woman asked about her options.

It turns out that Phillip’s table was not only offered a vinaigrette, but she had a choice of raspberry or balsamic. Phillip asked all the right questions —“How would you like that steak cooked?” “What side item would you like with that?” and “Can I get anyone anything from the bar?”

He did it all with something akin to bored detachment and strolled back to the kitchen with the order.

Marshall, bless his heart, tried. He got one of the drinks wrong but replaced it quickly without much fuss. He joked about how dumb he felt and tried his best to make his smiling face what we remember and not his flubs. Phillip showed none of that spark, but everything he served was exactly as ordered.

Marshall had the enthusiasm. Phillip had the institutional knowledge. If you could somehow fuse them together, it would have made for a much better customer experience.

Since you can’t Frankenstein your team members together, joining the best parts of each into the perfect customer service monster, here are some ways you can mitigate the bad habits both Marshall and Phillip demonstrated.

It’s okay to be new, but it isn’t okay to be a neophyte. Before your team members interact with customers, make sure they understand their job and your inventory. If you’re selling products, have them walk the floor every day and familiarize themselves with not only what you’re selling, but also where to find it. If you’re selling services, have them review case studies and client files so they can answer customer questions accurately and quickly. Identify common mistakes that new employees make and drill your people on them. Last year, I ordered a product online to be picked up at a big box store.  When I got there, an employee insisted that they didn’t have the product in stock. After 15 minutes of going round and round with him, I found the product myself on the store shelves. Needless to say, I haven’t been back.

“Fake it ’till you make it” isn’t a customer service philosophy. When asked about the salad dressing, Marshall could have easily said, “That’s a good question. I’ll find out and be right back.” It’s better to take the time to find the right answer than have your customer find out you gave the wrong one. The last time I upgraded my phone, I asked an associate the difference between two models. She told me there were some cosmetic differences, but otherwise it was the same phone. But looking at the specs showed one phone had a faster processor and better camera. How can I trust anything she tells me now?

You’re all in this together. A healthy competition between sales associates can bump up your numbers, but at the end of the day, you’re all on the same team. Make sure everyone understands that the health of the company depends not only on each person doing his or her job well, but that everyone works together. Set individual and team goals for your company, as well as individual and team rewards for reaching those goals. Just don’t make it so competitive that your employees will undermine each other chasing the brass ring.

In the grand scheme of things, a mixed up drink order, the wrong dressing on a salad, or a charmless, bored server isn’t going to ruin anyone’s dinner. But any of those things could sully the dining experience enough that I might choose a different place next time and the manager would never know why. Entrepreneurs understand that offering a great product is only half the battle. A lot of companies offer great products. It is repeat customers and word-of-mouth that make the difference. Customer service is the key and there’s more to it than a smiling face.

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