Delivering a great customer experience does not necessarily require any specialized technology – especially for a small business. Sometimes it’s just a question of getting the basics right, and reinforcing core values with your staff.
Take high-end restaurants, for example. Clearly these are businesses that need to deliver great dining experiences, on a repeatable basis. During downturns, when consumers are unusually choosy about where to invest their precious leisure time and money, businesses that deliver great customer experiences will have an advantage over those trapped in the same-old, same-old paradigm.
Here’s the story.
The other night my husband and I decided to celebrate at an upscale local restaurant… We’d been waiting for the right occasion to dine there for several months, and the moment finally arrived on Saturday. This restaurant business had a well-established brand and reputation for their Seattle location, and had recently opened a second location in nearby Bellevue (within reach of Microsofties and other affluent diners).
Sadly, we were disappointed even before the waiter brought us the bill. Had the customer-facing staff been better trained (and incented?) on basic principles, we would have been thrilled with our dining experience. (True to its reputation, the food itself was great.) But the staff made a number of mistakes when it came to managing a great customer experience. As a result they’ve lost our future business.
Here are some basic principles that enable businesses like this (and yours too?) to delight their customers.
Get The Basics Right – The Not-So-Secret Sauce for Success
- Set expectations that you can meet – and then try to exceed them
- Be honest and authentic in your interactions
- Ask customers for their preferences, and give them options when you discover that you cannot deliver on your original commitment
- Pay attention to your customers and learn how to tell them apart (don’t treat everyone the same)
- Don’t spend so much energy trying to maximize what you’re selling (or up-selling) that you lose sight of what’s best for your customer — if you’re looking for long-term relationships with your customers
What They Got Wrong
To make this story more concrete, here’s how this restaurant mismanaged our experience, and proved they don’t deserve our future business. These are the basic principles they got wrong.
Set expectations you can keep. Be honest.
When we called to book a table, they said the earliest they could seat us was 8:30 PM. We agreed, and arrived at the restaurant 5 minutes early. They told us we’d have to wait a bit until our table would be ready. They suggested we wait in the bar until then, and promised to get us in a few moments.
In fact they did not seat us until after well 9:30 PM, more than an hour later. Our meals were delivered closer to 10:30, at which point we were well past starving. Had they been honest about their overbooking when we phoned for a table, we would have gone elsewhere and decided to try again on a different night.
Yes, they would have sacrificed that evening’s revenues for an option on our future business. Instead, they risked their brand – and lost both our future business and any chance of positive referrals.
Pay attention to your customers, so you can tell them apart.
We waited in the bar area for quite a long time. At least one or two other parties that arrived after us were seated before us.
When the maitre d’ finally came to escort us to our table, she called my husband by the wrong name. Was her inattention to who was who, or our respective positions in the reservation queue, the reason for our long delay before being seated? This question left a poor taste in our mouth as we walked to our table…
Ask for preferences, give the customer some options.
While waiting, we saw a dozen or more people having dinner at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. No one asked our preferences: to eat right away at the bar, or continue waiting another X minutes for a table to be ready. The cocktail waiter was the only one paying attention to us at that point. It was late, we were hungry, and we didn’t want to overdo the alcohol on empty stomachs.
Not surprisingly, there were no complimentary glasses of wine, no “amuse bouche” specialties from the chef to make us feel better about the long wait. (We’ve enjoyed those touches at other upscale restaurants when their service was faltering.)
Don’t overly emphasize what you want to sell, at your customer’s expense.
The cocktail waiters were, if anything, overly attentive. No capacity issues there…
We’re aware that restaurants earn much of their margins from the markup they impose on alcoholic beverages. This left us wondering if the whole delay had been engineered to persuade us to buy more drinks than we’d intended. Was it deliberate manipulation on their part, or just a series of unthinking blunders? Were they trying to maximize their margin at our expense? (The wine selection was good, but the markup was high.)
On a positive note, the food was indeed delicious, and the waiter provided good advice on their house specialties. But his style was formulaic, and at that hour of the evening, he appeared to be going through the motions rather than focusing on us in any authentic way.
Beware of Consequences
So how will we respond to this disappointing experience?
We had been talking to friends about getting together, and booking a large table at this restaurant later this month. Needless to say, we won’t organize a group dinner there any time soon.
I’d also been planning to bring clients to this location for business dinners. But that’s no longer in the cards. I won’t risk bringing clients to a restaurant whose service is so unpredictable.
And because the price tag was quite high, relative to the overall experience delivered, we won’t return. Instead we’ll patronize restaurants that can deliver both great cuisine and memorable dining experiences.
This is a parable for businesses that need to focus on customer experience management, especially in tough times when there isn’t enough consumer money to go around.