To serve your customers well, take a clue from Zen Buddhism

“Shoshin” is a concept taught in the practice of Zen Buddhism and it means “Beginner’s Mind”.  The theory is that we should approach something new, and even something with which we are highly familiar, with the mind of a child or a beginner, as if we’ve never experienced it before.  Zen Buddism teaches an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions.

So what does this have to do with business?  Good question.

I hardly ever eat at fast food restaurants. When I do, I’m more likely to “dine” indoors rather than use the drive-through window. However, when I am in a rush, that drive-up is a nice option. But, here’s the problem. Since I do it so rarely and hardly ever in the same place twice, I never really know what I’m doing. Where’s the intercom into which I give my order? Now what…give my money at the first window? No, the second window along with the food? Both? Neither?

And, as you might imagine, the 16-year-old working on the other end of the intercom has often NOT thought to tell me what to do after I place my order.   He works there—maybe has even eaten there his entire life—so he certainly knows what I should do. He just doesn’t tell me.  This annoys me. I have taken to asking, “Which window, please?” after giving my order.  Or, if I’ve stopped at the first window, given my money, and not been told I need to pull up to the second window, I just stay there.  If the clerk looks at me as if I have a turnip on my head, I say, “Shall I pull up or is my food coming here?”

I’m sure those clerks wonder how stupid a person can be!  Everyone knows how fast food drive-up windows work, right? How can any American NOT know?! In my own defense, I think these establishments change things depending on the time of day, right? So, if the truth be told, plenty of people might not know what to do. Yet, the fast food chains have long ago abandoned their “beginner’s mind” when it comes to customer service. Would it be so hard to include in the order-taker’s script, “Thank you, and you’ll be pulling up to Window 1 to pay and Window 2 for food pick-up”?

Good customer service should anticipate a customer’s questions and confusion and offer explanations before being asked.  An employee who is trained to treat each customer as his first, and each transaction as something new, could go a long way toward increasing the likelihood of return visits.

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