Customer service is all about attitude

Ian Gotts

Plenty of research shows that happier staff are more productive. But It is not good enough to just hire positive, happy, capable people, says Ian Gotts. Here's why.

Having not been back in San Francisco for 12 months I was struck by the customer service compared with the UK, and even different parts of the USA.

Maybe it is the great weather, their upbeat view of the economy or what they put in the water, but the Northern Californians are just happier people to be around. That is shown in all customer interactions. No matter what store or restaurant the staff are genuinely happy to help. And not because they will get a better tip.

There is plenty of research to show that happier staff are more productive. But it seems to be so rare in the UK.

Was it something in the water?

There is one exception in the UK – Pret a Manager (essentially the Macdonald's of the sandwich world). There the staff are full of energy, are attentive and seem to be having a good time. Recently in one of the restaurants I asked to see the manager. Rather sheepishly she appeared, braced for some irate customer onslaught. I thanked her for running a great restaurant and complimented her on the attitude of her staff. She was dumb-struck and lost for words. She was so unused to people saying thank you.

At the company I co-founded we had no politics at Board level. We trusted and actually liked each other. We lived life to the full, were looking for the good side in everything and everybody. On occasion we were let down, but the positives massively outweighed the negative. The resulting culture was powerful and showed through. Customers recognized it and I often received emails commenting on the great service.

Since we were acquired by a larger company there have inevitably been some changes. One of the appealing aspects of the acquisition was that the company by which we were acquired had a similar can-do attitude and the Executive Team are very approachable. And this delivers results. Revenue is approaching $1 billion having just completed its 17thstraight quarter of growth. An amazing track record when you consider the economic backdrop.

So what is the secret? It is not good enough to just hire positive, happy, capable people. A disorganized company where everything is a last minute scramble rapidly destroys morale and destroys even the most positive.

What is required is an organizational approach which enable the managers to get the best out of their teams. This means a combination of clearly defined processes, transparent metrics, and an open management culture.

When you get this right it almost seems effortless. Work seems to be fun. Which is important as we all spend so much time at work.