Sales Without Service is Killing You | Business LockerRoom

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By Kelly Riggs | Sales + Leadership

Jul 12

Sales Without Service is Killing You

by Kelly Riggs

It has become rather commonplace to experience bad service at restaurants. Surprisingly, it rarely has anything to do with the food.

Usually, it’s poor service. Or indifference. Or both.

Here is one vivid example that I remember. My wife and I traveled to St. Louis (home of sales consultant superstar, Mike Weinberg) to run a half-marathon. After the run, we ventured down into the Central West End for lunch, and settled on a popular little restaurant on Euclid Avenue.

After we were seated and had ordered drinks, I noticed a sign right inside the kitchen – clearly visible from my table – the “9 Rules of Service.” It was strategically placed, I suppose, to offer guidance and not-so-subtle reminders to restaurant employees about serving customers. But, although the list offered some good advice, it clearly wasn’t required reading for the wait staff.

The first and last rules on the list were identical; like opening and closing credits to a movie.

Rule 1: “Smile!”

Rule 9: “Smile!”

Bad WaitressMaybe that advice only applies on weekdays, or was optional on race day. I have no idea, but I was afraid to ask since our waitperson wasn’t exactly chatty. Or smiling.

Anyway, my wife and I both decided on something simple and light for lunch, the Strawberry Spinach Salad.

We were contemplating our dour waitress and the irony of the posted service rules when the salads arrived. Minus the strawberries. Yes, it is called a Strawberry Spinach Salad, so my wife was more than a little curious. Tracking down the waitress – whom, by the way, we have decided doesn’t work in a comedy club in the evenings – my wife asks if the salad is supposed to include strawberries.

“No, I don’t think so,” she says.

Ever so gently my wife points out that the name of the salad is the STRAWBERRY Spinach Salad, to which the waitress says – no, you can’t make this stuff up – “Oh, yeah. I guess that’s right.”

Turns out, the restaurant is out of strawberries. Might have been good information to have, my wife suggests. I didn’t know, says Ms. Personality. Which is not at all a good thing considering another sign my wife sees inside the kitchen area. The one that lists several things the restaurant is out of for the day. “86 strawberries,” it says at the bottom of the sign, with a couple of underlines for good measure.

I suspect that reading the kitchen signs isn’t in the “9 Rules of Service.” Forever the optimist, my wife asks if there is any other fresh fruit she could substitute for the strawberries.

Nope. All out of fruit.

Which leads to a second conversation at our table. You might imagine how it went. But, just a few minutes later, our waitress returns with plastic cups of…mandarin oranges. No, seriously. About six little mandarin orange slices in each tiny little plastic cup. Trust me, there is simply nothing quite like a half dozen canned mandarin oranges to spice up your strawberry-less salad.

But, to be completely fair, our wait individual did try to make it up to us. When she dropped off the check, I noticed she had knocked off two bucks for the salad.

Without comment. Without apology. No offers. No kind words.

Still, two bucks is two bucks, I guess.

We can hardly wait to go back.

The Most Important Person in Service

It seems that people perpetually complain that the economy is bad. So, why do restaurants treat their customers so poorly? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that every customer is critical in a bad economy?

Heck, aren’t they critical in a good economy? In fact, isn’t creating an outstanding dining experience THE foremost objective with regard to bringing customers back in? Which means that a sales department that is not supported by great customer service is almost doomed to fail. At best, they will greatly underperform because word gets around.

One thing I know for certain is this: If excellent service was important to the owner, restaurant customers would receive good service. Wait staff would be trained to provide a great experience. They would be evaluated on customer satisfaction. They would be held to specific standards of professionalism, courtesy, responsiveness, availability, knowledge, and positivity.

Which means, of course, that the real culprit in most customer service issues is the leader, not the employee. The leader is responsible for direction. The leader determines priorities. The leader sets the tone. The leader determines the prevailing culture. If the leader’s expectation is that customers will receive great service, then customers will almost assuredly receive great service.

But, if service – GREAT customer service – is NOT a priority to the leader, then it will never happen.


There is nothing quite like getting a customer in the front door and losing them quickly out the back door because your support staff missed out on your version of the “9 Rules of Service.” So, here is my question: Is your team trained to provide extraordinary service? Are the standards of performance clear?

A crystal-clear set of corporate values, or guiding principles, are absolutely essential to defining the type of company you want to be. They are invaluable in getting all of your employees on the same page. They are non-negotiable in terms of creating a consistent performance standard for your valuable customers.

If you don’t have these values, and if you don’t consistently train to the standards set by those values, you are likely losing customers simply because one of your people doesn’t get it. Oh, and putting a sign up on the wall clearly isn’t the answer. Training and repetition are the answer to consistency in great service.

In fact, they’re kind of like the strawberries in a Strawberry Spinach Salad.



About the Author

Kelly Riggs is a business performance coach and founder of the Business LockerRoom. A former national Salesperson of the Year and serial entrepreneur, Kelly is a recognized thought leader in the areas of sales, management leadership, and strategic planning. He serves clients ranging from small, privately held companies to Fortune 500 firms. Kelly has written two books: “1-on-1 Management™: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t” and “Quit Whining and Start SELLING! A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales.”