By Ben Henry

There is a yawning difference between a world-class business and a mediocre one. Take two restaurants, for instance. In the first one, you are greeted with smiles and given prompt personal attention. It is your first visit to this restaurant and you immediately feel comfortable in the environment because the smiles diffuse any fears and inhibitions you may have had. You are guided to a table, and you ask for some coffee. Within seconds, the waiter is back with your coffee. He positions the handle of the cup in such a way that it's easy for you to lift the cup without expending much energy. You are pleased because you are already paying for the coffee ... you don't want to work for it as well. Before you have to ask for more coffee, he is back to the table asking you if you would like some more. He is thoroughly professional in everything he does. You can see that he knows what he is doing. He is obviously well-trained. You look around the restaurant and his colleagues are all behaving in a professional manner. You can hear a pin drop because the service professionals in the restaurant don't talk ... they whisper. You are pleased at the professionalism, friendliness, courtesy, and responsiveness of the service provider. You leave with a smile on your face, and you have now become an advocate of that restaurant ... telling everyone you know about that wonderful restaurant you keep going back to all the time ... a world-class service organization.

Two weeks later, you are out of town and you go to another restaurant for lunch. You are greeted by a waiter whose body language clearly tells you that you are a bother. There are no smiles, no welcoming remarks. The handle of the coffee cup was put in a position where you have to turn it to the proper position to enable you to drink your coffee, thereby expending precious energy you need for the rest of the day. Service providers are talking louder than the customers. You have to ask for more coffee twice, and every time you feel that you are being a bother. The essential customer contact techniques of professionalism, courtesy, friendliness, responsiveness, empathy and anticipation are sadly lacking in the service providers in this restaurant.

The attitude of indifference portrayed by the staff in this restaurant and the absence of the key customer contact techniques necessary to deliver quality customer service have made you into what Harvard Business School professors, Jones and Sasser, call a "terrorist" customer. A terrorist customer is a dissatisfied customer who leaves an organization for the competition, but it doesn't end there. The customer goes on a crusade against the organization, utilizing every opportunity to convert others by expressing his/her dissatisfaction.

There are two types of waiters in a restaurant - the true professional and the plate carrier. Anybody can carry plates in a restaurant, but it's only a true professional who can deliver the kind of service that will meet and exceed the customer's expectations.

It's sad to say, but service in Jamaica is at an abysmal low. But whose fault is this? Many managers will give you a myriad of excuses - "it's difficult to get good help these days"; "them head too tough"; "we keep telling them to smile with the customer and they keep forgetting".

Let's look at some of these excuses. First of all, if a service business' sole hiring criterion for an employee is the possession of a warm body by the applicant, no wonder the service is so bad. You can't just hire a warm body that walks into your business asking for a job. You need to hire the attitude and then train the skill. If you can get both good attitude and skill in one person, great! But if that person has only the good attitude but not the skill, hire him/her and then train them into the skill. Never hire bad attitude. It takes only a few days to train a waiter to carry a tray, pour water and set the table, but a generation to change a bad attitude person into a good attitude one.

Some organizations engage in "smile" training only. The managers will call a meeting reminding staff to smile with customers. Nothing wrong with that because a smile adds value to the customer's experience. But there are a host of other things that they need to know - anticipating customer needs, for instance. When a customer has to put his or her hand up and say, "Waiter, can I have some water, please?" then service has clearly broken down in that restaurant. The skills mentioned earlier need to be part of the repertoire of skills that the service provider must possess. And once you have trained your staff in these and other skills, then you must observe and monitor their performance of these skills, otherwise "forget it". People don't do what you expect, they do what you inspect. Constant monitoring and evaluation of the service encounter is the only way to ensure that service providers do what "them suppose fi do".

Ben Henry is Managing Director of Customer Service Academy of Jamaica Limited, Jamaica's and the Caribbean's foremost customer service consultancy. He is the author of two best sellers - "Quality Customer Care for the Caribbean", and "How to Become a World-Class Individual - 33 Strategies for Success". He may be contacted