Mark Scott – Why the recipe for primo customer service recommends employees just be themselves

When California Pizza Kitchen head G.J. Hart arrived on the scene in 2011, he found a number of issues he wanted to address.

One of the first items on his list was the structured approach his team took toward serving guests in the restaurants.

CPK developed a series of steps for servers that started when they seated guests until it was time to deliver the check. It removed all the guesswork from being a server. But it also created a dining experience that lacked a personal touch.

Hart discovered that guests typically received the same experience, whether they were a couple out for a romantic evening or a family with young, screaming children. The reason is the servers were following a script. 

In most cases, when someone tells you that you sound “scripted,” it’s not meant as a compliment. The general inference is that you’re not putting much thought or emotion into what you’re saying. You memorized what you needed to say, you said it and that was it.

But even in a profession where you need scripts, such as acting, your goal is not to come off as if you’re reading lines. You want your audience to think you’ve become this character, and the depth of your role goes beyond just the words coming out of your mouth.


Unleash your talent

The same rules apply in the world of customer service.

Companies that provide the best support to customers are those that empower employees to assess a situation and actively seek the best way to respond. So if you’re a server and you notice that your next guest keeps looking at his watch, you know to skip any witty banter and try to get him seated, served and out the door quickly.

Hart didn’t want his servers to be robots. He wanted them to be real people who could interact with guests and customize their service to each situation — and he quickly discovered that his employees were thrilled to shed formality and give guests the best experience the servers could provide.


Take care of business

As you look ahead this year, think about what your company can do for customers and think about skills or talents you might be underutilizing. How much do you know about these people you’ve hired? And considering these people are on the front lines dealing with customers daily, how much more guidance do they need to make your customers happy?

Every strong company has core values that it prizes. But if you’ve communicated them to your employees and you’re confident your servers understand what you expect, what other reasons do you have to keep your employees reined in?

Just take it from Amber Cox, a bartender at the CPK in Canoga Park.

“People go places because they like the service,” Cox says. “Guests love the way we can be ourselves and take care of them in the fashion they want to be taken care of.”


Mark Scott is senior associate editor of Smart Business Los Angeles. If you have an interesting story to share about a person or business making a difference in Los Angeles, please send an email to [email protected].