Be careful what you make “mandatory”


The other day I visited a local Firehouse Subs.  As usual, when I walked in the door, I heard an unorganized chorus of “Welcome to Firehouse” from the employees behind the counter.  I didn’t look to see if they had even looked up from making sandwiches or queued off the sound of the door.  I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of these “gang welcomes” that a number of quick serv establishments have adopted, but the experience of walking through the door and being yelled at alone did not prompt this blog post. It was something else.

Before I get to that, let me tell you why I am not a fan of this practice.

  1. It’s an interruption – If someone is diligently making a sandwich, let them make the sandwich.  It interrupts the service an employee may be providing to the person right in front of them so they can “welcome” another patron.  Isn’t the person in front of them worth their full and undivided attention?
  2. It’s generally insincere – Because this is probably a mandatory action, it has become rote.  No thought, no expression, just when the door opens, you yell.  Do it or else. That’s a warm and fuzzy all around.
  3. It’s UNwelcoming – The purpose is to greet and acknowledge that a customer has just arrived.  Yelling at them insincerely ought to accomplish that, don’t you think?

Now that I have that off my chest, let me tell you why this particular visit got my attention.

As my sandwich was being made, another patron walked in the door.  One employee blurted out, “Welcome to Firehouse”, then the employee standing right in front of me, making my sandwich, repeated the “greeting” in the most mechanical, emotionally void and insincere way.  He didn’t even look up from his task.  Par for the course for what I have seen so far.

Still, that’s not why I am writing this. It’s what happened next.

The employee who made my sandwich, wrapped it up and put it in a bag.  He then looked directly at me, smiled a very genuine smile, and with all the warmth and care of Mother Teresa, said, “Here you go, sir.  Hope you enjoy your day.”  It was like a ray of sunshine had taken over his body!

Did he REALLY go from robot to caring human being in less than 5 seconds?  I was blown away.

So I very quickly made a distinction between the last two phrases I heard him utter.  The first was likely something he had to say, was strongly encouraged to say, and might even get in trouble if he doesn’t say.

The second one, he WANTED to say.  And that’s what most people don’t understand about service.  Try as we might, great customer service does NOT come from a book, a policy, a rule or a mandatory phrase.  It ONLY comes from a genuine desire to help someone else.

If you are having trouble creating an environment where your employees want to provide great service, I can help with that so give me a call if you want.

But only if you want to… it’s not mandatory.

Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Be careful what you make “mandatory”

  1. Well said Matt. I have always felt this way too. It shows (in my opinion) how out of touch those “powers that be” are with real customer service.Sincerity beats robotics hands down. Good job — as always.

    Donna Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2012 21:03:37 +0000 To: petersen_donna@msn.com

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