By Ashish Gambhir
Guest experience is well recognized in the industry as the primary driver of loyalty. The Zagat 2012 America’s Top Restaurants Survey found that service – at which consumers are still looking more critically than anything else in a restaurant – continues to be the main complaint of a 66 percent of diners. Further, a recent poll by Loyalty 360, The Loyalty Marketer’s Association, found that 78 percent of customers believe that having a great customer experience creates longstanding, loyal relationships.
When restaurants deliver a distinctive, brand-defining experience, their guests will come back, increase their spending, and more than ever before — through social media — recommend. In other words, restaurants would be wise to heed Walt Disney’s advice: "Do what you do so well they want to come back and bring their friends."
Employees hold the key to great customer experiences
As a restaurant executive, you are committed to delivering the best possible experience to your customers. Building a strong, distinctive customer experience can help drive customer retention, loyalty and, ultimately, sustainable business performance.
The challenge is often getting your employees to feel the same way. More than anything else, your employees make or break the experience of your diners. Your marketing team may be the ones to make promises to customers, but it’s your employees – particularly your hostesses, wait-staff, bartenders and cooks – who are responsible for keeping those promises. The more engaged and motivated these employees are, the more apt they are to consistently deliver a great customer experience. As customer experience guru Bruce Temkin contends that employee engagement is one of the four customer experience core competencies and the one companies tend to struggle with most.
Fortunately, a new source has evolved for restaurants to drive employee engagement: Online guest feedback. At a consistently growing rate, customers are tweeting, blogging, and posting their restaurant experiences. In fact, you are probably capturing portions of this customer feedback and using it as an input into your marketing team.
But did you know that this customer insight is great intelligence for motivating your employees as well? This concept is discussed in the article “How Customers Can Rally Your Troops” in the June 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review. The article describes how ”a growing body of research shows that end users — customers, clients, patients, and others who benefit from a company’s products and services — are surprisingly effective in motivating people to work harder, smarter, and more productively.”
When employees understand and experience the impact the company’s products and services have on customers, it serves to inspire and motivate. It seems, according to the article, that the reason feedback from customers is so effective in motivating is because employees see customer feedback as more credible and instills a sense of meaning.
Randy Stanley, vice president at Parasole Restaurant Group, has found that being able to link employees directly to what customers are saying online has been shown to dramatically increase their ownership of the employee/customer relationship.
"In the not too distant past, we had to rely on shopper reports to evaluate service and food quality. Maybe two per month. Now with all of the web sites devoted to providing reviews and comments from its users, everyone is a critic and we get hundreds of reports daily,” Stanley said. “An unintended result from the use of and sharing of customer feedback is the psychological control it places on employees. They now recognize and accept that everyone is a critic and that they can read about their performance on the Internet daily, good or bad. They see now that they have to be ‘on’ all of the time. Every experience counts. That was powerful."
Restaurant leaders understand the importance of leveraging online mentions about their brands, regions, and units as customer feedback assets that can be utilized to drive operational improvement, grow guest count, and strengthen revenues. Its intrinsic value in driving employee motivation and productivity should also be embraced. Sharing online customer feedback from social media channels with employees gives them a renewed and sustained sense of motivation for and ownership of customer service and the overall customer experience.
Armed with this type of customer feedback data, employees recognize and accept that with the push of a button every customer is a critic who can readily share their experience – good or bad – in the social media world. Consider these recent reviews posted online:
“Weekend service needs to improve. Slow. Takes at least 5 mins to place an order. Many times, staff fails to understand the urgency of pick-up.”
“Why do the least friendly members of the staff work the cashier stations? I'm no food service expert but those who have poor social skills probably belong in the kitchen or doing the cleaning. Just saying......”
“The staff at the XYZ location was incredibly friendly and patiently waited for me to make a decision. So many places rush you through and make you feel like a cow going through a maze at the slaughterhouse. Nice to be served with a smile from time to time, y'know?”
Seeing this real-time, open ended, unsolicited feedback helps your staff realize that every experience counts. Sharing these insights with them, making the necessary modifications, and continuously recognizing and rewarding them for their improved customer service will help you deliver the brand-defining experience that makes your guests want to come back …and tell their friends.
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