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Note to the boss: Some of your staff suck!

Is it too much trouble to get service with a smile?

Maybe that’s asking a bit much, so how about a simple acknowledgement? Some common courtesy.

How hard can it be to deliver a baseline of customer service that gives customers (that would be the people that every business depends on to survive) the feeling that their custom is appreciated?

Well, at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old bloke – which I know I can be – I’ll share with you just one of my too many experiences of truly lousy customer service. This one is close to my heart because it involves hospitality and alcohol.

Okay, so I was in a bar trying to have a couple of quiet Friday afternoon beers with a good mate. In a nice recently renovated suburban hotel, with no shortage of staff.

In fact there were so many staff working behind the bar that they were able to maintain multiple conversations with each other. Which is nice, kind of. Except that the bar staff in question seemed to totally miss the point that their job (may I say their only job at the time) was to serve the people wanting to buy a drink. You know, people who want to pay money for the stuff they are trying to sell so their employer can afford to pay them.

Well, it wasn’t to be. In a reasonably busy bar keeping the drinks flowing should be a priority. But not only wasn’t the service passable, it was downright rude.

Trying to politely attract the attention of the supposed service staff (with a polite “excuse me” or a subtle wave) resulted in, get this, the response: “you know its rude to wave at me”.

This might even be a funny story – yes, we were so dumbstruck by this response that we thought it was pretty amusing, for a minute or two. But as we struggled to buy yet another round it became less so. Oh woe is he you might be thinking. Poor buggers didn’t get their beers quickly enough. Well, that’s just not the point (although it is a serious enough issue in itself on a Friday afternoon).

You see, this isn’t an isolated occurrence at this establishment, or so many others. It’s indicative of the bar service we’ve been on the end of, right there in suburban Sydney, for many years.

And as annoying, frustrating and disrespectful as it is it’s not the fault of the bar staff. In fact some of the bar staff at this establishment are terrific, nice people, doing their best. And I’ve never had a problem there with the product – they can take a drink order accurately, pour and deliver up a respectable cold beer, and mix a happy cocktail with the best of them.

But it’s just not enough.

Great product alone doesn’t deliver a great customer experience.

And it’s not fair to blame the bar staff. After all, they are doing their job as best they can. Doing what’s expected of them. Well, I assume they are doing what’s expected of them otherwise they wouldn’t keep their jobs. Right?

So, what is expected of them? How do they know what’s expected of them? Who is responsible for keeping them on task? Who lets them know what they need to do a little (or in some cases, a lot) better? And, importantly, who is giving them positive feedback when they do a good job?

That would be their boss.

In this case the duty manager or bar manager. But it appears the only expectation of these staff is that they serve up what’s ordered and take the money.

I would think that they could add a few other expectations to this, which might include being pleasant to the customers, making eye contact, taking the opportunity to smile, saying hello, paying attention to who might need service, saying thank you, amongst other things. You know, making an effort to add something positive to the customer experience.

It shouldn’t be left to the customer to drive the performance of the staff. That’s just wrong on so many levels. No, that’s what managers, or dare I say, leaders are for.

And therein lies the problem.

As a leadership consultant and coach I’ve worked with countless leaders and their teams over the past sixteen years. Leaders and managers in all types of industries, professions, trades and businesses. A great many of them are pretty good, some are excellent and disappointingly some are just not in the game. That good old bell-curve works here. I know what effective leadership looks like and I know leaders who strive for that excellence with their people every day.

So when I see the poor performance of the staff at the neighbourhood watering hole, struggling to connect with customers on the most basic level, I can pretty quickly spot the real problem.

Effective leaders know what their people are doing, how well and consistently they are doing it, what needs to change (and what positive actions need to be recognised, reinforced and rewarded) and how to support that change with their people. They ensure their team have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them, have the right training, skills and tools and then they observe, coach and support each of them to support their development.

We know good leadership when we see it. And we certainly know when it’s not present.

Next time you are disappointed with the service you receive, or the behaviour or attitude of the person serving you, try and figure out how that person is led.

Failure in frontline service delivery is virtually always the result of a deficiency in leadership.

Oh, and when you do get the great service we all would like, make sure you let the person delivering it, and their boss, know it. How often do you have that opportunity?


About the author

Greg Zimbulis has an extensive background in business development, leadership,

and management across a broad range of industries. As a senior behavioural change specialist and consultant, Greg works as project director, business consultant, facilitator, coach and mentor with a wide range of organisations at all levels from frontline teams to C-level executives.

Greg works with leaders and their teams on all things that Bring Leadership to Life.

He can be contacted at


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