Saturday evening in Madrid. I was thrilled.  At long last and after several fruitless attempts I had managed to get a table at a much praised restaurant in a trendy part of town. The elaborate menu promised an unforgetable experience… Two hours later I left the restaurant having eaten some fabulous food, but with no intention of recommending the place. What went wrong? Well, pretty much everything except for the food.

The word “waiter” does not have anything to do with waiting

Eight waiters in charge of 26 tables, tripping over each other and transmitting an air of sweet cluelessness. The entire evening was a sequence of glitches of which I will mention only a few:
After unsuccessfully trying to place us at a lonely table in an empty side room (whilst the main restaurant was only half full) the  waiters kept disappearing for long spells during the order taking resulting in us sitting at a table for 45 minutes without as much as even a glass of water. When the long awaited wine came it wasn’t the one we ordered… not even of the correct colour!  The food appeared as a series of dishes unrelated to our order.  We started to make bets as to what might be coming next.

Spain, business habitsThe experience was as unforgetable as it was inspiring.  Instead of inducing romantic thoughts, I couldn’t help dwelling on what would be more important to me, the product or the accompanying customer services?

Spain service desaster?

No doubt having a great product is crucial.  Without it or a market which can be persuaded to buy it we have no business.  So naturally our focus and effort goes to making it outstanding – designing, manufacturing, differentiating, communicating and promoting it. But how much time do we spend planning, designing and implementing the necessary customer services we need to deliver and service our great product?  My well meaning guess is that it is not even 5% of the time we spend on grooming our product to perfection.

Of course this is not to say that we should spend all hours of the day designing a top-notch customer service for a mediocre, half-thought out product. But it is a call for balance. Our customer’s view of us does not really differentiate between what is the product and what is the customer service.  They subjectively take in the whole process, with all its details of the initial sales experience, their product satisfaction and the follow-up service.

Back to my Saturday evening restaurant visit.  Having picked up some great comments about the restaurant I was all eager anticipation and ready to be pleased. All in all a potential “easy win”. Despite the food being very good, the disorganized customer service ruined my customer experience and completely undermined the restaurant’s image.

What is more important: product or service?

For our business to “rock”, product and customer service need to form a unit. Our customers experience them as a whole so we need to make them work seamlessly together.  A great product does not prevent us from failing in the market place if our service and delivery are not aligned – the damage done to the company’s or product’s image with inconsistent or poor delivery and service can be fatal, or at best take a very long time to heal.

la foto (17)
The ideal thing is to have great food and great service in a great atmosphere – but it is very difficuilt to achieve all of this at once. Therefore never underestimate that time is not for free, that people are hungry when they go to a restaurant, mainly they want to eat and not to wait and they want to get a smile and a good price-quality relation.