Picture: 123RF/LANGSTRUP
Picture: 123RF/LANGSTRUP

One of the pleasures of life is finding a good restaurant. But what makes you go back?

The food? For sure. The service? Oh, I think so. The ambience? Can play a big part. Who wants to sit by the toilet door or under the air con? The price? Actually, if the food, service and ambience were all good, it was money well spent and you’ll definitely go back again. If two out of three were good then you might put it down to bad luck, but will certainly make a comment about “at these prices I’d expect ...” But if two things were not good then it was overpriced, and you’d probably not go back.

And so, it is with clients and agencies. If you have a good kitchen and produce great work (whatever the theme of your restaurant happens to be) then clients will be prepared to pay you a visit, but, if service or ambience aren’t up to scratch then you could soon be in trouble.

I remember going back to a restaurant I hadn’t been to in ages with a bunch of mates. It was at the high end of our price range so we were all hoping it lived up to its reputation rather than living off it. The menu had us drooling and the vibe was spot on; having that lovely murmur of contented guests without the need to add anything more to it. The waiter came over and asked if we had any questions and told us about the specials of the day. So far so good.

Two of my friends are into their wines so the rest of us left to it to them to order, once they knew what food we were having.
The wine arrived and the offer to taste the wine was accepted and ... well they didn’t like it. No problem, said the waiter, let me call over the sommelier to help you.

The sommelier duly arrived and promptly asked about four questions, two of which clarified what they didn’t like about the wine and two around the “a bit more like this or that?”. He then brought two bottles back, opened both and asked my friends to choose. They both chose the same one. He smiled. My friends smiled. Even those of us who know very little about wine smiled.

It was a lovely meal, the food and wine were outstanding, the atmosphere was perfect for our little reunion. And the price was outrageous. So, will we go back? Absolutely.

The waiter was all ears throughout and when there was a problem, he knew not only what to do but who to call. The sommelier’s technique was to ask probing questions, the quality of which showed his knowledge and expertise. He didn’t tell us where he had trained or how long he’d been doing the job because he didn’t have to. The best people know the right questions to ask to get to the answer fast.

About the author: Tony Spong is managing partner at AAR Group UK, experts for 40 years, in association with IAS in SA. Picture: SUPPLIED/IAS
About the author: Tony Spong is managing partner at AAR Group UK, experts for 40 years, in association with IAS in SA. Picture: SUPPLIED/IAS

Clients are telling us that something has gone wrong in the way the “restaurant” is being run. The waiter no longer listens or knows who to go to solve a problem and can offer nothing better than an apology. The waiter has become an order taker like in a fast-food restaurant.

Who are the curious people in your agency asking questions? Who knows who to call in when there is a problem? Who can walk the client through “today’s specials”? Who knows that this is your usual table; that you like a biscuit with your tea? Who are the people who understand what service really means?

Client service is a proactive tool for keeping a client beyond three years, one that earns the goodwill. You’re the person who knows the right questions to ask and the right person who can answer them. Being a top maître d’hôtel is an important in a restaurant and so it should be in agencies.


If you are curious about why clients told us curiosity was the most valuable attribute their account lead needs to have, then come along to the next IAS Masterclass to discuss the latest research into how you can reinvigorate the role of account management.  


Date: February 11 2020
Time: From 2pm to 5pm
Venue: Gordon Institute of Business Science, 26 Melville Road, Johannesburg.
Booking: E-mail robynne@agencyselection.co.za

These masterclasses are free of charge to subscribing agencies and their staff. All names and titles of staff members must be registered with IAS before attendance is approved. For non-subscribers a cost of R3,000 ex VAT per person attending will be applied.

This article was paid for by the Independent Agency Search & Selection Company.

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