The Customer Experience – Restaurants Example
A core part of business success that most business owners overlook (and I’ve been guilty of this myself) is to ensure a smooth, seamless, pleasurable customer experience from beginning to end. The entire process, from the very first moment a customer (or prospect within your target market) begins to engage with your company in any way whatsoever, all the way to the end of the interaction must be as easy and pleasant as possible for him or her.
If it is, you’ll get more repeat business, more referrals, and can charge higher prices. If it isn’t, you’re either going to go out of business or you’re going to have to blow your brains out with marketing and sales to overcome your higher customer attrition rates.
The easiest example I can give in this area is restaurants. I’ve consulted with several restaurant companies in my business consulting practice over the last 20+ years and I personally go to restaurants all the time (weekly, in fact). So while I’m not a restaurant expert, I am a business expert with a lot of restaurant experience, and as such, I will lay out what I would do if I owned a restaurant (and I never would, since restaurants is a horrible and brutal business) from the standpoint of the customer experience.
I’m going to assume, from this example, that the restaurant is a normal, mid-range one. Not a fast food restaurant (which is a completely different type of business from a standard restaurant) and not a fancy / upscale restaurant. Just a normal family restaurant aimed at the middle class.
The first thing I would do would be to eliminate any long wait times. You might think this is impossible. How the hell do you eliminate any waiting if the restaurant is full and you still have more customers that want to be seated? The answer is that you don’t let them wait.
I don’t want my restaurant to have the customer experience of “that place where you have to stand around and wait for an hour while you’re hungry.” I love the food at Cheesecake Factory. I mean I really love the food there. But I almost never go there; I actually hate going there. Why? Because I don’t like waiting around for an hour to get a table. It’s a horrible customer experience. (And no, they don’t do reservations during peak hours. I checked.)
Therefore, I would choose a maximum wait time, say 15 minutes, and if there are any more customers piling in after the wait is 15 minutes, I would very politely turn them away. I’d probably give them some kind of fancy coupon they could use later, but I would instruct my staff to tell people that we just aren’t taking on any more customers at the moment, and turn them away. That way, the only people waiting are those waiting 15 minutes or less, which is a much less negative customer experience than waiting 45 minutes or an hour.
You could argue that turning away customers is also a bad customer experience. While it’s certainly not a good one, it’s still far less negative than sitting in my restaurant for an hour while you’re bored, impatient, and hungry. Instead, when we turn you away, you’ll go sit at some other restaurant and be bored, impatient, and hungry. Perfect. That’s what I want. Have a bad customer experience at my competitor’s place, not mine.
The next thing I would do is have a very strict first-come-first-served system at the restaurant. Have you ever been waiting for a table, and some group who came in after you got their table before you did? Of course you have, probably many times. How did it make you feel? This makes people very angry. It’s a horrible customer experience.
A restaurant owner or employee might say, “Well, the restaurant probably did that because a table that was the size of the other party became available before your party so blah blah blah blah logic blah blah blah.” Doesn’t matter. The customer doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your internal logistics. All the customer sees is that they’re waiting, bored, impatient, and hungry, and some people who came in after they did got their table first. Then they rage about how unfair it is for the rest of the evening.
At my theoretical restaurant, this would never happen. All parties would be seated in the order in which they arrived, period, end of story (unless they had a reservation, if my restaurant did that). If, for some strange reason, a table opened up to accommodate a party that came in after a party before them, that later party would be forced to wait until the party before them was seated so that the first party doesn’t feel insulted. And remember, there would be a maximum wait of about 15 minutes for everyone, so this would be no big deal. I don’t want anyone feeling insulted at my restaurant. That’s a negative customer experience.
Another thing I would do is enforce an absolute, do-it-or-get-fired protocol of all bottles at all the tables being filled to at least 50% at all times. They would never be allowed to go below this. How many times have you tried to use some ketchup and realized there wasn’t enough in the bottle at your table? So now you have to look around and steal ketchup from some other table. If the other tables are all full, now you’re screwed, and have to wait to find your waiter so you can get some.
Shitty customer experience. At my restaurant, the bus staff would be required to go around and refill bottles every X amount of minutes to make sure this never happens, and they would be instantly fired if they failed to do this. (Obviously my restaurant could not exist in anti-business cultures like Suicidal Europe, where self-employed people generally aren’t allowed to fire people whenever they want from their own companies.)
Implementing modern technology would also be key. Too many times at a restaurant, you have to wait, and wait, and wait until your waiter (or any waiter) walks within earshot so you can make a request. With today’s technology, this is completely ridiculous.
At my restaurant, there would be a waiter call button on every table that you could press. This would softly ring in an earpiece in the waiter’s ear with the table number. The waiter would be right over as soon as he/she was finished doing whatever he/she was doing. This kind of thing is very inexpensive these days and I’m absolutely staggered that restaurants still don’t do this.
You get the idea. It’s a lot of little things that make up a huge difference. You don’t want your customers to attribute negative experiences to your business regardless of the logistical limitations you think you have. It’s bad business.