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By: Dr. John T. Self

A Customer Service Tip: Everything is NOT OK

Is your company striving for OK?

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But it happens every day in food service operations around the world. It is a pet peeve of mine when a manager comes striding to my table and asks the inane question, "Is everything OK?"

What's wrong with this picture, you ask? Let's break it down:

Everything? Is the manager asking if I am satisfied with the political, economic, ecological and sociological status of humanity? Or maybe the manager thought that I was about to burst out crying and was attempting to offer help?

What about the word OK?

By definition OK means the minimum acceptable level. I doubt seriously if the mission of any company is to strive for the minimum level of customer service! So when the eager manager excitedly receives the expected "yes", knee-jerk answer to the knee-jerk question, the manager goes away pleased. But should the manager be pleased?

I think not.

I don't blame the manager. He or she was trained that way. Indeed, it was probably pounded into him or her to visit every table. 100% table visitation. Asking everyone in the restaurant if "Everything is OK" is like a prime directive in most restaurant chains.

What's so wrong with wanting to get the opinions of all your customers?

First of all, when you ask 'Is everything OK', you're not giving the customer an opening to respond. Instead, it becomes a formality, like the greeting of "How are you?" You don't really expect an answer, except for the polite "Fine".

Of course, visiting every table in most restaurants doesn't give you any time to actually stop and listen to the customers! By running around and asking "Is Everything OK?" you can quantify the experience, and give yourself a false sense of accomplishment by making your 100% table visitations.

It is like the owner of a hotel demanding that the hotel manager keep the hotel full. All the hotel manager has to do is keep reducing the price of the room until the owner's results are accomplished. Never mind that the hotel is losing money. It may be full now, but it sure won't be around for long.

Don't get me wrong; The concept of customer feedback is right, but the execution and results are dangerously wrong. By getting a stock response from a hastily asked question, you've learned nothing about the customer's experience that night. And what if everything actually WAS just "OK"? In today's market, will a so-so "OK" experience guarantee that the customer will come back? Of course not.

Here are four rules to follow when asking about your customer's perceptions of your service:

  1. Allow time to listen, don't just go through the formality of asking.
  2. Ask specific questions, not general, sweeping statements.
  3. Use a superlative that you want to be identified with to the customer. Was your service excellent? Fantastic? Outrageous? Set your sights high not low. Never OK.
  4. The quality of the effort is worth far more than the quantity of effort.

It's time that the hallowed expression "Is everything OK?" was finally laid to rest.

About the author:  John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academe, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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