5 Things I Learned About Customer Retention Just by Eating Dinner

5 Things I Learned About Customer Retention Just by Eating Dinner

My husband and I recently stopped for dinner at a local eatery that had gluten-free options. The chain is a step-down of a national chain, but not quite fast food. You order at the counter, are given a number for your table and servers bring your food to you.

The food is delivered to your table as available, so if your dining mate’s food is ready first, it is brought to the table and yours will come when it is prepared.

It’s a fairly easy system. If you are seated near the open kitchen area you can see your food being prepared and hear the banter of the staff: cooks, servers, and managers, as they prep, stage, and deliver your food.

On this particular evening, my food was brought to me and I immediately noticed it was not what I had ordered.  As I looked up to let the server know, what I saw was her back as she had literally placed the food in front of me then headed off in another direction without as much as “here you go.”

Being gluten-free often means I get my food after everyone else as it has to be prepared separately and I am OK with that. But if it is not prepared correctly or is the wrong order, it adds to the wait.

But being gluten-free isn’t the point.

What’s Up?

I finally flagged down our server and she approached our table with “What’s Up?’ and an irritated attitude that reached us before she did.

I explained my order was incorrect and without a word of apology or even acknowledgement, it was snatched away and we heard some not-so-pleasant conversation as she berated the cooks because “they” had made the wrong dish. I noticed the manager was within earshot, saw him frown and turn away.

One would hope that a botched order would get high-level attention. Not the case in this case. We watched while several other customers who came in after my order was returned, got their food, then finally we heard the cook call out my food order. Again, it was gluten free so there had been an added wait.

Then it went up in the window. Our waitress walked by it three times before I politely and yes, I mean politely, asked if it was ready. I didn’t let her know I knew it was. Again, no response as she wheeled around, picked it up, and in one sweeping motion as she walked by our table, delivered the food without a word of acknowledgement, or apology for it being wrong the first time, or even eye contact.

None of the employees seemed to be having a good night. I wasn’t exactly having a blast either. Everyone in the place seemed to be irritated with each other and not once did a manager stop by to say hello, check on customers, or, since he was aware that we’d had a wrong order, offer an apology.

What I did get was a 5 Point Checklist for making sure MY customers don’t have a similar experience.

#1: You can’t afford a negative attitude.

I have no idea why our server was in a bad mood.  Something could have happened at home. She might really hate her job. But what she conveyed to the customers of the restaurant was it was an inconvenience to take care of them and she didn’t really care to do so.

Had this been an isolated incident that just involved her, I might have been able to overlook it.

#2: Bickering among employees leads to negative attitudes.

Employees who interact negatively with each other in front of customers is a huge turnoff. It’s awkward and embarrassing. It shows a lack of respect for each other, the owners of the company and themselves.

#3: Lack of empathy tells the customer that they don’t matter to you.

As a customer, I want to be heard. I want my order to be heard correctly and if there is a problem, I want to be acknowledged and know that someone cares to make it right. I want to feel as though I matter.

#4: Leadership has to set the tone, and step in to correct the problem.

A manager, who does not step in to help remedy a situation and joins in with his bickering employees, shows an incredible lack of leadership. He or she fosters the negative environment and the message customers get is that their needs are less important than the issues the staff is arguing about in front of them.

#5: There is no substitute for value.

No matter how great the food is, or the cost, poor service and lack of caring for the customers will negate any benefits in a heartbeat.

Whether you are a restaurant, retail store or any other business that deals with the public, unhappy employees will kill the profitability of a business. Customers don’t need a lot of reasons to take their dollars elsewhere. Loyalty doesn’t always lead the way or have the weight it used to, especially when there are so many other companies vying for the customer’s business.

Creating Happy Customers

It’s important to recognize that, while most bad experiences aren’t this obvious, not following this 5 Point Checklist affects the customer relationship even in little ways.

So if you have a business, as my husband and I both do, I hope this checklist also helps you create happier customers, and happier team members. Especially if you are one of the team!

Previously posted on  The Good Men Project and Manifast Now

Photo: Flickr