When we think about building guest loyalty, we often bog ourselves down with external, uncontrollable factors—the hot new concept that just opened up down the street or the construction that’s blocking our entrance. Instead, our main focus should be, “What do customers want? And what are we doing to give it to them?” Here are some tips on how to get inside your customers’ heads:
- Listen up. If the big boss was down for a visit, what would you do? Call a group meeting, roll up your sleeves, create an action list and consider everything that was said as serious and important. But your customers are your biggest boss and most of their input is never heard. Instead, work the table. Ask specific questions—what would you change about your experience tonight?—and prompt real suggestions. Chart all comments—positive and negative—look for similarities and actively pinpoint areas of improvement.
- Go for the group. Every quarter, pull together a select group of regulars and ask them if they’d be a member of your focus group. Feed them well when they are there, and send them home with gift certificates as thanks. Ask tough questions—where else do you go? why? what’s the primary reason you come here?—and be receptive to all comments, positive and negative.
- Apologize well. When a problem occurs, deal with it immediately and apologize sincerely. Then, if the customer agrees, ask for specifics: “Our customers are very important to us and we are always looking for ways to improve. If you have a minute, I would really value your input. How do you think this could be avoided? Has this happened to you here before? What changes could we make internally to ensure your satisfaction?” Then, listen well and reward the customer with a gift certificate. You’ll gain a loyal customer and invaluable input.
- Train, train, and train some more. Providing exceptional service naturally builds guest loyalty. Make sure your training program goes far beyond foodservice basics. Train on every aspect of the guest experience, and use online training to make sure you’re always delivering a consistent message.