By Ron Culberson. With a master’s degree in social work, Ron Culberson spent the first part of his career working in a large hospice organization as a clinical social worker, middle manager, and senior leader. As a speaker, humorist, and author of "Do it Well. Make it Fun.The Key to Success in Life, Death, and Almost Everything in Between", he has delivered more than 1,000 presentations to associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations. His mission is to change the workplace culture so that organizations are more productive and staff are more content. He was also the 2012-2013 president of the National Speakers Association and is a recognized expert on the benefits of humor and laughter.
My family went out to dinner one night and the service was really slow. After a long wait, our server brought the burgers and fries but did not bring any ketchup. When we asked for some ketchup, the server said she would bring it right out. Ten minutes later we still didn’t have any ketchup. I don’t know how long it takes you to eat but for me, ten minutes is about eight minutes longer than I need. I eat fast. Coincidentally, I also walk fast, talk fast, hurry fast…well…you get the picture.
In addition to not getting any ketchup, the food was lukewarm. So the longer we waited, the less appetizing our already-cold-sans-ketchup meal became.
When the server finally returned, my wife said, “Unfortunately, our food was not hot when it arrived. And we didn’t get the ketchup.”
The server said, “Well, we’re doing the best we can. It’s very busy.”
And then she walked away.
Do you ever have those moments in life when you want to stand up and deliver a ten-minute soliloquy on good customer service?
No? Well, maybe that’s just me and my professional speaker world. And for the record, I held my tongue and did not say, “Well, you’re way behind and you really need to ketch-up.”
But here’s the thing. The main concern I had with our server’s behavior was not so much what she did but how she did it. Oh sure, we were frustrated by the slow service and the lack of ketchup but her response compounded the problem significantly.
The better approach would have been to apologize, to offer to replace our cold food, and to take responsibility for not remembering the dang ketchup. But when the server discounted our problem and blamed it on being busy, the implication was that her busy-ness took precedent over our need for a quality dining experience.
The how of what we do is not always obvious to us because we’re too busy doing the what. Our days are so cram packed, we typically just want to get stuff done rather than pay attention to how we’re getting stuff done.
I suggest, though, that the how is just as important as the what, and when we consider both, we’re much more effective in everything we do. Let’s walk through a few ideas for how we can apply this concept...
Take Responsibility. First and foremost, we must take responsibility for our role in any situation or relationship. When we blame other people or the system, we are not operating with integrity and we’ll be less successful in our endeavors.
In our restaurant experience, the server blamed the situation for our lack of satisfaction. By saying that they were doing the best that they could, she made it sound as if they were unable to do any better. However, if she had owned the situation, we might have become her ally and tried to make things easier on her. And even if she couldn’t control the chaos of the evening, by simply acknowledging what she was doing to improve things for us, she would have added a bit of integrity to her efforts.
Empathy. One of the best techniques for successfully maneuvering through this world is to show empathy for others. When we understand where others are coming from, we put ourselves in their shoes. And when we do that, we’re much more likely to approach them and the situation with more compassion.
For instance, if our server had more empathy for us, she would have realized that we were not happy with the slow service or the fact that our food was cold. But instead of empathizing with us, she was more concerned with herself and responded in a self-protective manner by defending her own behavior.
Word Choice. Lastly, once we take responsibility and have empathy for others, our choice of words has a big impact on how we interact with others. In my experience, I have seen a number of leaders undermine their good ideas because they didn’t use the right words to share those ideas. And when we use the wrong words, we can sometimes create more problems than we solve.
Imagine how we would have felt if our server had said this: “I’m so sorry that your food is cold. I can understand your frustration. This is not the kind of experience we want our customers to have. I want to fix this for you so that you leave our restaurant happy and satisfied.”
I think we would have reacted differently. But somewhere along the way, she was probably told that she should not admit that there is a problem or else people will demand a refund or make a complaint to the manager. Ironically when service personnel acknowledge the problem, most customers are more understanding.
I truly do empathize with restaurant staff and anyone else who has to deal with the public. It’s a tough job and people are not always polite. However, if we just understand the value of taking responsibility for the situation, showing a little empathy, and then using the right words, we will be more successful in how we handle most challenges.
So, the rule to remember is this: Pay as much attention to the how as you do to the what. Oh, and BYOK (Bring Your Own Ketchup).
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