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Owens: In customer service, L.A.S.T. comes first

  • Michael Owens

If you’re thinking about a business that you’d like to start someday, the first thing you think about is not usually your customer service culture.

Usually, that’s the thing you think about last.

Maybe thinking about customer service as L.A.S.T. might just be a good thing. Ask anyone who works or once worked at Chick-fil-A, they will likely be able to spout off what that acronym means.

One of our era’s shiniest examples of customer service is Chick-fil-A. Despite having fewer stores than other fast food chains, being closed on Sunday, and selling a limited menu of chicken, this fast food company typically makes more money than its competition. They also spend more on customer service training and investing in their team.

So, what does it mean to be L.A.S.T.?

It means to Listen, Apologize, Solve, and Thank the customers. Let’s break this down so that you might be able to find a way to use it in your business.

Listen

When a customer complains to you, it means that a lot has happened leading up to their complaint. Think about it. When was the last time you complained when you had bad customer service? You probably didn’t. If you’re like most, you accepted the bad customer service, internalized it, and tried to remember where not to go the next time you made a buying choice.

The first step in training your team is to teach them to actively listen. Make eye contact when the customer is talking. Point your feet to the person you’re listening to. Nod your head to signify that you’re absorbing the information that they are sharing. While you’re listening, you’re probably already starting to diffuse the customer’s frustration.

Apologize

Next up, you’re going to apologize. If the business did something wrong, it’s not at all helpful to deny it. Apologize, sincerely, and move to the next step. But, if you may be thinking, “I didn’t do anything wrong. I just listened to this person go on and on about something that is completely out of my control.” Well, don’t forget the power of empathy.

Acknowledge the customer’s frustration by saying, “You must be upset” or “That would make me very frustrated, too.” You don’t have to take responsibility for the problem unless it really is your problem. Remember, though, it does no one any good if you talk bad about your business or try to argue with the customer. Resist the urge.

Solve

Next up, you’re going to find ways to solve the problem. You may want to present some options that are in your purview to change. Or you may want to ask what the customer would need to make it right. All in all, you should have some things at your disposal to help rectify situations that arise.

If the customer is mad because the reservation was not found and their party is hungry, you could offer to seat them first available. You could offer to seat them at separate tables, or if this is your error, you could offer a complimentary beverage while they wait for seating to become available.

Thank

Finally, after the problem has been resolved, don’t forget to thank the person for their time and patience. They have taken the time to bring up an issue that others may not have taken the time to bring up. Don’t forget to thank them for choosing to come to your business.

With this technique, you have performed service recovery. With the right kind of service recovery, you can build a stronger, more loyal customer base than you had ever imagined.

So, let this L.A.S.T. training be the first thing you address with your team on Monday.

Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest non-profit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or by calling 912-232-1223.

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