In a quest to improve the customer experience, many restaurants have underinvested in employee experience and engagement programs.

Retaining customers in the full-service restaurant industry is vital to success. In fact, repeat customers account for at least a third of revenues and are local brand ambassadors, sharing their experiences on social media and review sites. The potential loss of revenue from a customer never returning can have a negative impact, but one bad review can reach the masses and be devastating. There are several reasons customers don’t return, and bad customer service is one of the leading causes. Poor service is a deal breaker for obvious reasons. No matter how great the food or ambiance, if the service is subpar, all bets are off.

Yet in a quest to improve the customer experience, many restaurants have underinvested in employee experience and engagement programs. This imbalance can make it harder for restaurants to create the experiences that customers seek and generate the business results they crave.

Most operators try to hire the best possible talent and train them to be friendly and flexible, greet patrons with a smile and deliver stellar service. But training is only one piece of what employees really care about and what motivates them to provide above and beyond service.

Today, employees across all industries want to come to work and make a difference and in the restaurant industry, that is especially true. Restaurant staff truly want to connect and engage with their guests just like they want that same level of connection and engagement from their employer. However the changing environment has unintentionally put up barriers to developing a happy staff that can deliver happy experiences. Uncovering where these new obstacles are gives us the ability to take positive action in addressing them.

Successful restaurant owners improve their customer experiences by mirroring the values they hold for diner experiences including convenience, quality, value, respect, trust and motivation with employees. It is when these same values are bestowed upon employees, that the chances of them engaging with guests in positive ways are much higher.

Easier said than done. Over the last year, full service restaurants have had to make a major shift from fidelity (opulence and high quality) to convenience (delivery, pickup, packaging orders). This shift has left employees with much different roles than they were hired for, yet they still want to be executors of the brand and strategy. For example an employee who was once the head server in a main dining room may now be responsible for packaging orders for delivery or curbside pickup. Not quite the role he or she signed up for, but one that still has great importance when it comes to customer experience.

This is where the voice of the front line employee becomes critical to success. Listening and obtaining their feedback on what’s working and what isn’t can be the difference between cold food being delivered via GrubHub and a poor comment on a review site that goes viral. Giving employees a feedback mechanism to share that the curbside pickup experience is lackluster can drive new innovations such as the adoption of a contactless messaging tool to engage with pickup customers.

While employees may not be performing the same job as last year, they still want to be part of the restaurant’s success and are looking for recognition that their ideas are being heard and adding value to the company’s operations.

This is why many restaurants are turning to employee listening as a way to say “we hear you and we are listening to all of the great feedback you have.” By giving employees a chance to share their perspectives, opinions and issues, it builds a culture of trust and recognition which leads to an incentive to deliver stellar customer experiences.

One restaurant for example, leverages their intranet to share emails that have come from an executive to an employee recognizing their contribution to small process changes that customers are raving about. This simple act had a viral effect and motivated other employees to share their feedback and new ideas. The employee morale is more than money could ever buy.

Another restaurant shares their key performance indicators with all employees, giving them the opportunity to make a difference and contribute to the overall success of the business. Taking their feedback and ideas through consistent feedback pulses has resulted not only in finding better ways to delight customers, it has become the early warning sign for revenue-impacting customer issues and points of friction.

We are at the tipping point of employee engagement and while every industry can reap the benefits, the restaurant industry is poised to see the value in their repeat business.

Mike Debnar is a former Medallia customer from 7-Eleven, Inc. where he served in a joint role as Vice President/Co-founder of 7-Ventures as well as leader of the Digital Innovation team.  Known as a visionary and transformative thinker, Mike led 7-Eleven in defining the strategy for customer experience and innovation. Mike has an extensive background in CRM and VOC. He created a program at 7-Eleven called Digital Guest Experience which combined loyalty/CRM, Customer Experience Management, and mobile and social channels.  He works with new and existing Medallia customers to leverage digital channels to expand their CX programs.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees