Diego Masciaga is a master of customer service. He is a hospitality guru and is Director of the Waterside Inn, in Bray, UK; where he has been with the Roux family for more than 30 years. He spoke exclusively to us about his work and his dedication to superb customer service.
Do you think the level of customer service has changed over the years and how do you see it changing in years to come?
Yes, the level of customer service has definitely diminished in recent years and there are a number of reasons for this; many people, especially those from younger generations simply don’t expect it anymore. There is complacency, suggesting that what they have never experienced, they don’t miss. However, older generations, who do remember good customer service, are likely to acknowledge its decline over recent years.
Equally, as the pace of life has become faster, lifestyles have changed and people’s preoccupation with technology have prompted the breakdown of communication skills. People are more willing to complain about lack of customer service if they have a medium through which they can remain anonymous, by writing or a telephone call. Others may not even have time for that. This in itself allows standards of customer service to slip further in to decline.
As the world has become ‘smaller’ and evermore cosmopolitan, etiquettes and customer service in general are lost through misunderstanding or misinterpreting cultural differences and language.
However, good customer service will become increasingly more important as economies expand and companies compete for business. Equally, if there is an economic crash, businesses will be fighting to remain buoyant, or even just to survive and as this happens, good customer service will be as important as the product itself, if not more so. Perceptive and insightful company heads will need to invest foremost in customer service to remain in business.
How important do you feel that customer service is in the world of business and how much impact do you believe this has on the bottom line?
I feel that customer service is becoming increasingly more important in the world of business. It can be seen to safeguard against businesses going into liquidation or folding during difficult economic times. As economies became unstable and businesses start to suffer financially, especially service-based industries, good customer service will help them get through the bad times.
Good customer service will not only enable survival of some businesses but also help with expansion and ensure longevity of the business, and offer stability and insurance to such businesses.
Ultimately, good customer service leads to pleasing and pleasing leads to profit, as trust and loyalty of customers grows. This in turn leads to repeat custom and a build up in regularly returning clientele in any business. In this way, business growth is ensured and ‘word of mouth’ recommendations bring yet more clients.
Good customer service is something that people remember and works, very much, on a psychological and emotional basis, enabling and enhancing people’s sense of wellbeing.
In addition, employees gain from offering good customer service by receiving job satisfaction and seeing a clientele build up. As a result, this may increase employee retention in companies, which is ultimately of great benefit to a business on many levels.
You say that you believe service is a way of life, not a job. What do you feel are the traits necessary to give excellent customer service and is this something that can be taught?
Everything that is done in terms of customer service should be carried out with the best possible intention. The desire to please should emanate from the onset – it should be something that is almost tangible.
The personal qualities required to do this are first and foremost, passion. Willingness to please must come across from the first encounter with your client and it is this that they’ll later remember and look back on.
It is imperative to anticipate the client’s needs, this will bring understanding about how you must approach, handle and treat them. Recognising someone’s personality or mood is of equal importance – sometimes mood is of greater importance – sometimes mood may change and therefore the way in which one approaches them would reflect this. Showing that you have humility and a degree of humbleness will help gain a
client’s trust. Being honest and sincere are unquestionably, of utmost importance.
Yes – I believe to a large extent customer service can be taught. With the right attitude, openness and dedication to learning, experience in good customer service can be nurtured.
Naturally, some people may take longer to teach, but with a lot of motivation, belief and praise, almost anyone can learn good customer service. Equally, as an individual receives good feedback about their customer service, their confidence will grow and this will help inspire them to strive even more.
How do you think companies should approach improving customer service to achieve excellent customer experiences in their business? What do you think are the necessary first steps?
Firstly, it will depend on the type and size of the company. In small set-ups it’s easier to identify where customer service may be lacking. In a larger company, you would need to examine and assess areas or departments, where customer service might be lacking – it could be where face-to-face service is taking place, over the telephone or via email.
It might be an idea to carry out customer surveys on a regular basis to find out where customer service is under-performing or indeed to have staff assessed regularly by a management team.
To improve customer service the management teams from all departments should be trained in the importance of delivering good service, which should be filtered down through the ranks.
As customer service is such a personal subject and has its foundations in human relationships, the only way to convey convincingly how customer service should be performed is to bring an expert in to share their expertise and experience.
The team should be taught to get pleasure from pleasing people.
Customer service skills should be regularly monitored and assessed, with some sort of training scheme implemented within the company – this is imperative. In this way customer service skills will be less likely to slip or be lost; instead they can be continually refreshed and enhanced. Such a scheme can lead to personal rewards for staff and ultimately both client and company will benefit.
You have been immersed in customer service throughout your life, is there anything you would do differently and can you give some examples of highlights during your career?
From the age that I am now, when I look back and see that on occasions I’ve been too nice and generous that people have taken advantage of this and treated me like a doormat – this is something I’d do differently.
Transforming young people’s lives – on arrival these young people are often without any experience or knowledge in customer service, sometimes from difficult backgrounds and of different nationalities. However day-by-day I make it my aim to nurture them. After several weeks or months, I am able to see them flourish and begin to understand and acknowledge the needs of the customers. They seemingly start to get pleasure from pleasing and in their own way they are rewarded by that. Their confidence and personalities strengthen. This transformation is very much a continual highlight of my work.
Another highlight of my career was in 1994 when I accompanied Mr Roux to Russia, whereupon we were invited to organise two formal events in the Kremlin for Mr Boris Yeltsin – an unforgettable opportunity and experience.
Furthermore, it has been the greatest honour and pleasure to be of service for all of the Royal Family, in their own private grounds, as well as at The Waterside on many, many occasions.
One of my greatest highlights was in 2011 when I learned that I had been awarded the honour of being knighted by the Italian President – Cavaliere dell’Ordine ‘Al merito della Repubblica Italiana’ (the equivalent of a knighthood in the UK).
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