When you work in the bar and restaurant business, it’s important to understand the difference between filet mignon and flat iron, or blended and single-malt, but knowledge alone does not guarantee happy, repeat customers. Rather, it’s how you apply your knowledge—how you put it together to create an “experience” for the customer—that transforms a satisfactory experience into a great one.
It’s the same in this line of business. While it’s important to know how to build pivot tables and liberate choked up inboxes, providing a customer with lasting and meaningful value requires a bit more consideration. It requires you to recognize the importance of each interaction, and how they come together to address the customer’s bigger picture.
I’m able to make that comparison with conviction because I’ve worked in both fields. Today, I am an on-demand advisor for Vitalyst. Previously, I studied culinary arts and worked as a chef and bartender.1
It may seem an unlikely career path, but the two professions share many similarities. At a basic level, they both involve helping customers with the question at hand. The nature of the questions may be different, but their unpredictability and immediacy are the same.
While it’s important to know how to build pivot tables and liberate choked up inboxes, providing a customer with lasting and meaningful value requires a bit more consideration.
Working in bars and restaurants provided me with foundational skills I needed, but the transition to my current position wasn’t without a few challenges. Of note: customers visiting a bar or restaurant are usually relaxed and happy to be there. At the service desk, however, people often call because something’s wrong, and it’s getting in the way of their work.
My first experience with a distraught customer was a challenge, for sure. But I flipped into restaurant mode and let him know that he was in the right place, and that by calling he had begun to fix the problem. It wasn’t customer vs. machine anymore. It was the two of us teaming up to tackle a problem.
Early on, I wasn’t sure if my customer service skills would translate. One call in particular convinced me to stop worrying. It was a relatively simple but time-consuming issue—an Office install that required a few reboots, which was a slow process. I had already described the install procedure to the caller, so there was nothing technical left to explain.
However, remembering that he was calling from Quebec, the city my favorite hockey player calls home, I took a long shot and asked if he liked hockey. He did, and we spent the remainder of the time talking about the sport, rather than sitting in silence while the reboot took place. The experience taught me the difference between providing a “service” vs. an “experience.” By connecting with the caller on a personal level, I helped him turn a frustrating morning into a productive day.
It wasn’t customer vs. machine anymore. It was the two of us teaming up to tackle a problem.
I have learned a ton since I started working at Vitalyst—and much of it from customers, despite being the “expert” on calls. They have helped me understand that there are countless ways to resolve a problem, and that my way isn’t necessarily the customer’s best way.
One of the most useful skills I brought with me from my previous profession was the ability to identify what people need beyond the obvious. Of course customers visit a restaurant for food and drink, or call the service desk for technology help—but what is the context? Are they looking for a quick bite before a long movie, or a five-course meal with wine pairings and funny anecdotes from the server? Do they need just a small tweak to an Excel chart before a departmental meeting, or are they looking to resolve an issue that’s been nagging them for months? Either way, they want to fix it, figure out what caused it, and prevent it from happening in the future.
I enjoy helping people with both types of requests (and the ones in between), and each requires a different approach. By understanding the differences and responding to them, I can end up with customers that aren’t just satisfied, but also empowered and more productive.
1 I also played bass in a few punk bands, but I’ll save that experience for another post.