The top 3 ways to provide a solid customer experience

“Customer experience” is the arch buzz-term of 2016, and like most jargon, it hides uncertainty. It cloaks day-to-day business in generics that sound better than real life. Frankly, we can’t create great restaurant experiences unless we bring the term down to reality.

Customer experiences are just things that happen to guests at your restaurant—that’s it. The customer experience is the perception that guests form from these events. We don’t need to wax poetic; we don’t need to talk about customer experience the way a wine critic reviews a youthful cuvée. As far as we’re concerned, customer experiences fall somewhere between awesome and horrible, and not every experience can be awesome.

The “secret,” then, to customer experience is to play offense and defense. Rather than forcing a “great” experience where it’s impossible, try to focus on minimizing terrible experiences. To illustrate this point, let’s examine three areas where the line between “awesome” and “terrible” runs thin.

1. VIPs

If the Pareto Principle is correct, 20 percent of your guests account for 80 percent of revenue. In restaurants, we call those guests “VIPs.” If you want to improve their experience, you better recognize them.

Normally, restaurants have a big brown book with info on VIPs—names, what they order, where they’re from, and so on. Staff will look at the book and memorize what they can, but of course VIPs slip through the cracks, especially if there’s staff turnover. If VIPs are used to a warm welcome, “their” table, or a cocktail on the house, they’ll feel slighted if it doesn’t happen. Treating VIPs well isn’t rocket science; it’s just easy to miss them.

To prevent this from happening, you can use mobile payments. When people pay by phone, not credit card or cash, you can collect their purchase history, average spend, favorite orders, etc. Manually or automatically, software can flag VIPs and instantly text the GM the next time they open a tab. The GM can stop by, say thanks, and perhaps send a complimentary chocolate lava cake right before they pay the bill.

You could digitally flag VIPs in multiple ways—if not via mobile payments, you could use an online reservation system or a mobile application that tracks location. To optimize your VIPs’ experience—to make “awesome” possible and “terrible” impossible—you need a bulletproof way to identify them.

2. Paying the Bill

In restaurants, three things matter: how warmly guests are greeted, how quickly a server comes, and the quality of the meal. On the other hand, nothing good ever happens when it’s time to pay. No one says, “Wow, paying the bill was awesome tonight!” The best-case scenario is, it’s a neutral experience. The guest doesn’t fight for the server’s attention, there are no mistakes, and all goes quickly. A lot can go wrong though, and mobile payments are a great way to eliminate or mitigate any checkout problems that arise.

Whether you offer a smartphone app or tabletop tablet to process payments, mobile payments should be an on-demand experience for your guests. When you take the server out of the equation, table-turn times will drop and sales will increase because you’ll serve more customers. Tips will also rise because servers can spend more time assisting guests when they aren’t swiping cards. The efficiencies of mobile payments lead to greater and greater benefits with each additional customer that closes their own tab and walks out happy.

3. Feedback

Traditionally, restaurants have no appetizing way to collect feedback (no pun intended). You don’t want customers playing Gordon Ramsay on Yelp, so you must offer a forum for complaints and suggestions. Comment cards are better than nothing, but you don’t want to miss valuable feedback and you don’t want disgruntled guests to repress their frustration and hate your brand. Who wants their server to see the negative things they wrote? That’s almost worse than rating an Uber drive while he’s staring at your screen.

Instead, you need to provide a private way for guests to review their experience after they leave the restaurant. This could be presented on a mobile app, through an email, or even via text message if you had the means. Whatever the medium, the GM needs a way to respond to feedback. A prompt apology and $10 gift card can convince unhappy guests to give your restaurant a second chance. It’s great Yelp defense, and proactive instead of reactive.

Overall, if you think of customer experience as the collective impact of all events—good and bad—you avoid the trap of the buzz-term. You can provide a warm greeting, attentive service, and delicious food. And while you can’t make everything else awesome, you can prevent subpar experiences from negating what you do well. That might not sound like the “customer experience” other technologists proselytize, but it works.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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