Would You Like Fries With That?

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It’s been almost 6 months since I fully launched Spark and ventured into the world of entrepreneurship on my own. Over the last 6 months, I have had a lot of family and friends ask questions like “is Spark still in business?”, “are things going okay?”, “do you have any clients?”, “Can you afford to pay the bills?”

Fortunately, I get to answer “yes” to all of these questions, and I have my very loyal client base to thank for this. I have clients who have stayed with me, no matter where I’ve gone, and came with me when I started Spark, without a second thought. This is definitely a testament to their loyalty and to the friendships I have built with many of my clients, but this is also a direct result of the fact that I insist on outstanding customer service in everything I do at Spark. And where did I learn this? Believe it or not… at McDonald’s!

The first real job I ever had was working as a cashier at my local McDonald’s in high school. To this day, I believe that the 3 years I spent working at McDonald’s taught me everything I needed to know about customer service, managing my clients and ensuring a satisfied customer every time.

Beyond the purple uniforms, Happy Meals and world famous Cheeseburgers, my work at McDonald’s put me on the front line and had me interacting with all sorts of customers and clientele. Many of these customer service principles and “coping” techniques are skills that I still have in my toolbox today:

  1. The Customer is NOT Always Right….but Why? A large portion of the training at McDonald’s revolved around teaching staff the detailed policies and procedures behind their practices. This meant that all employees were equipped with the explanation for why we do the things we do when we have to say “no” to a customer. To this day, having practices and processes that make sense and having detailed understanding of our practices, allows me to explain to clients why we cannot do things a certain way. Rather than just saying “No, we cannot do that”, having the ability to explain the rationale and logic behind the “No”, oftentimes is all I need to be able to diffuse a situation so we can move forward towards finding a solution.

  2. You never know what kind of day they have had. One of the things we were trained to do when dealing with a nasty customer at McDonald’s is to not only walk a mile in their shoes, but try to imagine where those shoes may have been. Most of the time, when a difficult client seems to be taking out their frustrations on you, it never is really about you. A great tip for remembering this and not getting caught up in an escalated, confrontational situation is to put yourself in their shoes – but then imagine where those shoes may have been. One of the tricks we used at McDonald’s was to imagine that nasty customer, having just come from the doctor’s office where they found out their child is sick, or they just lost their job or they just had to put their dog down. When you think about it like that, all you want to do is raise your customer service game and try to turn their day around.   Try this next time you have an angry customer, sponsor or vendor on the phone. It is amazing what a quick shift in your perspective can do to turn the interaction around into a more positive, solution-based conversation.

  3. Look for those “Magic Moments”. At McDonald’s, management was always watching for “Magic Moments” when a crew member could go above and beyond the call of duty to turn a customer’s day around.  To this day, I still look for opportunities to go above and beyond for the client. Is it staying up that extra hour to get something done for them a day early? Is it working a little bit over the holidays to beat a deadline? Or is it giving out an extra happy meal toy? It is all the same thing. These little gestures and love that you put into your work really do pay off. It is evident to your customers when they can see that you care, and it shows in the results.

  4. We’re On the Same Team. It was imperative when dealing with customers that they understood we were not working against them, we were on the same team as them, trying to accomplish a common goal.  We were trained to never to take an opposing view of the customer, but to use terms like “we will try to make something work for you” or “I understand your frustration and here is how I can help.” It is sometimes easy to forget when you are dealing with that difficult client that they are only being difficult because they care about the outcome as much if not more so than you do, because they have a vested interested. Once you remind yourself that you are all working together for a common objective, it is easier to work with them to come to a solution that will work for everyone. Your clients’ success is your success, so why get in the way of that?

The basics of customer service and client management that were instilled in me at the age of 15 have stayed with me to this day. Whether you are serving French fries, or planning events, the fundamental ideas of collaboration, working together with your client and shifting your perspective to look at challenges as opportunities really does go a long way towards building customer satisfaction and client retention.