Remove the Friction!
If you are like me, every couple of years you get a letter or email from your gas and electricity company telling you that your current ‘deal’ is about to expire. They then say and I paraphrase that they will then put you on worse tariff whilst at the same time offering you something slightly better but only if you sign up for another 18 months or two years. So you then dig out the last set of bills, something you haven’t done since the last time your contract expired, to see what you should do.
You are then faced with a couple of pages of numbers and codes which aren’t easy to understand. In most cases I have ended up defaulting to the recommended new tariff, breathed a sigh of relief and put everything away until next time. Not exactly a great experience.
My particular bugbear is when I do try and contact my providers I am left on hold for ages because “we are experiencing high level of calls at the moment”. Of course you are, everyone is trying to understand their bills!
Unfortunately being difficult to deal with isn’t the sole preserve of utility companies. When it comes to the hospitality sector many pubs and restaurants also seem to go out of their way to do the same.
The best operators make it as easy as possible for customer to engage with them – they remove the friction.
Window to the world
Although I still occasionally come across a restaurant or pub which doesn’t have a website these are definitely the exceptions. To be fair in most cases if they don’t have a dedicated website they do have their own Facebook account which they use instead. Regardless of which route you take, the key is to make sure your content is easy to navigate and informative.
What is important is to put yourself in the customers shoes and ask yourself what do they need to know which will make them visit me. As a potential customer is it easy to know when you are open? Some outlets still miss this off altogether or equally as bad make it difficult to find out.
Once I know when you are open what kind of food and drink do you serve? There are a number of different ways to display your menu on line and one style won’t fit all. If possible however as well as having the menu(s) on the website also give customers the chance to download them. For some reason whilst many places are more than happy to publish their food menu they seem to become somewhat shy when it comes to their drinks offer, with wine being the exception. Although not relevant for everyone this does seem like a missed opportunity for some outlets.
Online booking systems are also becoming increasingly popular. I think it is taken as read that it should be as easy as possible for a customer to make a booking, if that’s what you offer, but I would also ask how easy is it to amend a booking on your system once it has been made? Not being able to amend or cancel a booking in an equally straightforward way can create a great deal of frustration with customers if you aren’t careful.
In my experience this is an area where you can get the biggest disconnect between customers and front of house staff. When an outlet is quiet staff can have a tendency to be too keen and eager and not let customers have sufficient time to consider their options. Conversely when a restaurant or pub is busy it can seem a lifetime before someone comes and takes your order. So what’s the answer?
For me there are three elements to making sure the customer’s ordering experience is as good as it
can be. First and foremost I think it comes down to training. The best operators seem to have a natural rhythm of service. Whether that is by default or design it doesn’t really matter. They key is to be consistent. It’s also worth remembering that larger groups always take longer to decide on what they want. Not only are you at the mercy of the slowest to decide, the dynamic of more people usually means that there is more discussion “what are you having” compared to a couple. Well trained staff should know, give or take a few minutes, how long you should give each table before they try and take an order. They or someone else front of house should also be keeping an eye out to spot any tell-tale signs that a table is ready to order. There is nothing more frustrating for a customer when their attempts to get the attention of a member of staff seem to be repeatedly ignored.
Second is do your customers have all the necessary information they need to make their decision? Are your menus clear and informative? Using small and fancy fonts may seem clever but not if it means customers have to squint or borrow glasses to read what’s on offer. As well as vegetarian or vegan options these days you also need to consider people who may have allergies or who may be intolerant to certain food groups such as diary. Ensuring that your team can answer these and other sorts of questions is increasingly important.
The third element to ensure customers get the best experience possible is to manage their expectations. If you are very busy or short staffed giving a customer a sense of how long they may need to wait helps. Most customers will understand and for many it can also take the pressure off them having to rush. If wait times are likely to be unusually long in a given sitting there are also additional things which you can offer. These can range from complimentary hors d’oeuvre or a free bottle of wine for the table through to gift vouchers or in extreme circumstances a discount off the final bill.
Pay and go
No matter how good the food and service has been, this positivity can be undone right at the end of every meal because of how difficult it seems to be to pay. It is also important to recognise that with the increase in the availability and popularity of contactless payments the expectations in this area will only increase.
As with making a booking or placing an order, operators should look to making sure that paying at the end of the meal is as easy and painless as possible. For many customers the meal maybe just part of their plans so once they have finished eating they often want to pay and move on as quickly as possible. Having to sit there waiting to catch the eye of a member of staff is the last thing they want to do.
Having the flexibility to take payment in as many ways as possible is also a bonus. And if you can’t or don’t it is important that customers know this well in advance. Quite rare these days but I have still seen awkward encounters where a waiter has told a table they don’t take credit cards and then everyone starts to turn out their pockets to pay the bill.
The behaviour and attitude of your front of house team is equally important at this time. In too many cases once it comes to the paying the bill customers are left with a feeling of not being wanted. Waiting on staff can sometimes become almost dismissive or distracted compared to the almost over attentive way they welcome customers when they first arrive.
Training your team on how to say goodbye to a customer properly should be equally as important as training them how to welcome them. In the same way you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, the last experience a customer has with your outlet is likely to be the strongest.