The Tip of the Iceberg

No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter how successful your business is, there’s one thing that we all have in common: we all feel a bit of stress when it comes time to tip at a restaurant. Tipping is such an arbitrary thing; it often ends up being a nerve-wracking experience. Why does it have to be so hard?

waiter serving a table full of home inspectors

Rewarding Good Service

If we stop to think about it, tipping is really a cop-out. It’s a sneaky way for restaurant owners to make more money. They’re able to pay their waitstaff a minuscule hourly wage, because, they say, they’ll make it up in tips. The owners are trying to get their customers to pay more for their meal so their service staff can get paid. It’s cheap, it’s underhanded, and as a former bartender working in the service industry I can attest, it’s a crappy way to make a living.

But that’s not how it’s being sold. Obviously, the restaurant owners don’t want us to think of it this way. They tell the story that the tip is a little something extra; a way for us to show our appreciation to that waiter or waitress that provided us with great service.

Think back to the last time you had a problem in a restaurant. Maybe they were understaffed, and it took forever for you to get your order. Maybe the kitchen got your meal wrong or the chicken was undercooked. You had a problem that wasn’t the fault of your server, but the server was able to save the day and still make the evening an enjoyable experience for you. Did that lead you to give them a bigger tip?

What about that time you experienced wonderful service, where the waitstaff went above and beyond to ensure that you had a delightful meal? Did you leave a bigger tip that time? For most of us, the amount that we tip is directly related to the quality of the experience we have at the restaurant.

Our Businesses

So, what you may ask, does tipping have to do with my business? In one way or another, all small business owners are working in the service industry. We’re all providing our clients with some type of service. Whether you’re selling a product through a third party or providing your clients a service directly, like a home inspector or real estate agent does, we’re all serving our clients. So, we’re really not that far removed from that waitstaff at our favorite restaurant.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to make more money from our clients leaving us a tip? A little something extra to show us how much they appreciate the work we’re doing.

If you stop to think about it, we’re really earning tips from our clients all the time. When they decide to use us again, because they enjoyed the level of service that they received from us during our last interaction, that’s just like leaving us a tip. We’re being rewarded for a job well done.

So, how do our clients decide whether they’re going to use us again? They decide based on a review of the how we performed the last time we served them.

We’re always being judged on how good of a job we’re doing. Our clients are constantly reassessing our product and our level of professionalism. We’re always getting evaluated on the quality of our service.

The difficult part is, most of the time, we’re not there to see it. It’s happening behind the scenes: on the phone with other clients, in their offices at weekly meetings, when they’re in the midst of going over our product, using it to achieve the result they’re looking for, the reason they hired us in the first place.

It can be a bit unnerving to think about. We’re being evaluated, but we’re not there to defend ourselves. They’re talking about us, but we don’t have any say in the discussion. It’s almost like being back in school; you turn in your test and wait for the teacher to evaluate your work. You’d like to be there to explain why you chose that particular answer, but you’re not allowed to participate in that part of the process.

The Quality of Our Product

But, if you stop a moment to think about it, you really are allowed to participate. Whether you believe it or not, you really do have an over-sized influence on the type of grade you get or how well your product is received. Just like studying for that test, the results you get from your product depend on the preparation and attention to detail that go into your resulting creation.

You have a direct influence on the quality of your product.

If you want better results, if you desire higher quality customers, if you’d like to have fewer problems to deal with in your business, produce a better product.

Quality is the best business plan.

John Lasseter

Preparing for the Worst

No matter what industry you’re in, no matter what you’re selling, there will come a day when your product fails. Nothing is perfect; nothing lasts forever. No matter how great your product is, no matter the level of quality, eventually what you’re selling will disappoint your customer.

Whether those problems are directly related to us or not, the fact remains that eventually, every client will have problems. And if you provided a service related to that client’s product, those problems could likely become yours as well.

Once those problems start, what happens next often depends on the level of service you provided to that customer at the time of the sale. Whether they overlook the problem, take it in stride or blow it out of proportion, their reaction often depends on the influence you had at the time of the sale. Just as your restaurant server’s performance affects their tip, the impression you make directly influences the latitude your clients give to you when problems arise.

The way they remember you often affects what happens next.

What type of impression do you want to make on your customers? How do you want them to remember you years from now, when problems come up, when things start to break down? How big of a tip would you like to get?

Begin with the end in mind.

Stephen Covey

Our Performance

We all deal with problems every day. We’re always stressed; under pressure to perform; pushed to deliver even more while getting less and less. It’s a tough world out there for those of us that run a small business for a living. There’s always someone looking to undercut us; always someone looking to take our place. If we’re not careful, all that stress can show through in our work.

And when the client senses our stress, it can affect our tip.

tipping our home inspector

Try to start every job with this fact in mind. Always try to remember the result that we’re working toward. We know that problems are coming; it’s inevitable. What we do for our clients now, how great an experience we create for them in the moment, plays a big part in how they treat us in the future.

Will they remember that undercooked chicken, or will they remember how we bent over backwards to make sure we made up for the mistakes that were out of our control?

Work to create the best customer experience possible. Remember, your future business (and your tip) may depend on it.

I welcome all feedback (both positive and negative) on this post.
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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector

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