Improving customer skills

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Yesterday, L.M. Sixel had an interesting column on how Chipotle Mexican Grill is beefing up its employees’ communication skills:

In June, Chipotle decided to go beyond its basic training of burrito-making and key English phrases to its daylong confidence building sessions as part of its diversity efforts. The chain, which began in Denver 11 years ago, realized it had to go further to explain its unusual menu offerings.

Its next step is to roll out more intensive training on how the food is prepared so employees can answer questions such as “What is free-range pork?”

“It’s going beyond, ‘This is the rice, and this is the beans,’ ” Bishop said.

The chain also plans to teach employees phone skills. Sometimes if the manager isn’t available, employees who aren’t native English speakers are reluctant to answer the phone.

Bishop said the chain encourages its employees identified for promotion to learn English and sends them to classes.

While it’s hard for employees who are often juggling two jobs, they’re often willing to make the commitment because they’ve seen line workers move into management. And it doesn’t hurt that Chipotle plans to open more than 100 stores during the next year.

Taking a page from Southwest Airlines and others like it, lower-level employees were encouraged to take matters into their own hands. Act like you own the place, Robinson stressed. Make customers feel as if they’ve walked into your home.

Everyone appreciates good customer service, but those skills really come into play when a dining experience is in trouble, for whatever reason. An employee who is able to listen, empathize and communicate can often turn a bad experience into a positive one, which benefits the company.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.