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My Big Problem With Restaurant and Store Owners

Updated on March 26, 2012

If you're in the restaurant business, the assumption is, you like people!

People don't buy from places and people they don't like. They may tolerate your business for a while, but as soon as somebody comes along that will treat them better on average, they will drop you like a bad habit! I am primarily talking about restaurants and retail stores here, but you can contemplate less than stellar customer service from anywhere else you want!

According to statistics provided by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce in 2007, 68% of shoppers say the most important thing in whether they return to a business is the treatment they receive from the staff. So, why is it that customer service is at an all time low?

According to statistics from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2007, the reasons customers leave your business are as follows:

  • 1% die (You can't do anything about this.)
  • 3% Move Away (You can't do anything about that.)
  • 5% Friends recommendations (You do have some affect.)
  • 9% Price (Notice where this is on the list.) Only 9% leave over price! That's major!
  • 14% Dissatisfied with Product or Service (totally under your control. If there is a problem you can still correct the problem and satisfy the customer.)
  • 68% Are upset with the treatment they've received, or indifference of sales clerks. (100% under your control.)

As a business owner, 82% of the reasons customers leave your business is totally under your control!!

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also estimates that customer loyalty and the lifetime value of a customer can be worth up to 10 minutes as much as the price of a single purchase.

One more important statistic:

A dissastisfied customer will tell up to 10 people about his/her experience. Thirteen percent of those unhappy customer's will tell up to 20 more people!

One of my favorite questions to ask business owners!

During the last few events where I spoke, I asked a question of the business owners who were in attendance. The groups I speak to are almost entirely made up of business owners. My question was, "how many business owners here feel they have good customer service? The entire room raised their hands. Very impressive . . .maybe? I asked again, "how many of you would say that they have great customer service? Approximately 20-25% of the room raised their hand. Then I asked the most telling question of all. How many of you feel that customer service has totally gotten worse in this country? Once again, the entire room raised their hands! . . . .

Something here doesn't add up! These answers can't all be true! Somebody. . . lots of "somebody's" are not being honest with themselves. The problem is, that there is a gigantic gap in what we think we offer in the way of customer service and what we actually provide! In over 90% of the businesses out there, what we believe we deliver in the way of customer service, is nowhere close to what it actually is!

A couple common characteristics of good restaurants and stores.

The one thing I've noticed about my favorite restaurants is that I am welcomed by people who genuinely seem to be glad to see me and appreciate my business. Most of them address me by name. Most of them also look me in the eye and smile. In my favorite restaurants, I've also noticed that almost every visit, the manager stops by my table and actually has a conversation with me and my wife or guests. Quite often, during these conversations, i learn something about the restaurant or food, I didn't know. More importantly, sometimes the manager hears something from me or the guests that he was not aware of. It may have been a problem, or an observation or even a suggestion. But, the owner or the manager actually learned something that he may be able to fix. Possibly there is something he or she may learn, in order to please even more customers down the line?

Indifference is Rampant!

Today, in this world of video, texting and less face-to-face interaction, I seem to run into more and more total employee indifference! Haven't these owners and managers learned that personal interactions with customers in both retail and restaurant settings have the great potential to heavily influence the customer's satisfaction level, right off the bat. Even if your meal is not all that good, you are much more likely to give the business the benefit of the doubt, if you like the manager/owner and the way they regularly treat you!

When things start out on a good solid friendly and sincere note, it helps the customer's attitude from the very beginning. Give a customer no greeting, an indifferent greeting or something less than sincere, and the rest of the visit is already at a disadvantage, and will be on the defensive thanks to the customer's initial disappointment!.

"As an owner of a restaurant or even a retail shop, you are greatly mistaken if you don't think a good sincere greeting, or even a brief conversation has the potential to influence the quality of interactions and therefore the customer experience for the remainder of the customer's time at the establishment."

Standing around waiting for a 2nd rate greeting?

Everyone Seems to Understand The Importance Of Customer Service, But The Implementation Is Just NOT There, Most Of The Time!!

Have you ever been to some of the chain restaurants that are often hosted at the front door by young girls (most likely in high school or college). Some of them are popping gum or running their fingers through their hair while standing around waiting to greet the next person who comes through the door. They blurt out, "Hi, welcome to _______". Fill in the blank. Their sincerity and sometimes their words are so canned and fake, I want to ask them if they can't do a better job of their greeting since it seems this is all they have to do!

The other thing that I've observed is that in some places where I've eaten for quite a while now, I never see the manager and I never have any conversation with them whatsoever. Once in a while I get one that rushes by the table a few times and eventually asks me how everything tasted, but I get the feeling, they don't even want to take the time to hear the answer, as they might get a question or a negative comment. Some almost seem to be afraid to get a negative comment. Retailing and owning a restaurant or "people" businesses. If you don't like interacting with people, you should get another line of work.

Owners and managers must acknowledge and even reward good loyal customers. Regular customers want and need to feel valued. Obviously the least expensive way to do that is by sincerely thanking them and greeting them as though you're glad to see them. However, I have visited restaurants for years without hardly seeing the manager, and have certainly not received any recognition from the manager, much less an offer of a free drink, dessert or (heaven forbid) a dinner! I guess it is a testament to their food, that I have continued to patronize the place! Often times, the turnover amongst the waiters and waitresses seem to be just enough, that it seems there is a new face on every visit. But this is where the manager can help make the difference and still make the customer feel like they are in a familiar place of friendly faces.

Remember Cheers? Where Everybody Know's Your Name.

A Positive Experience!

On the other side of things, I was in a chain restaurant the other night. It was a "Macaroni Grill". The manager, whom I had not met before, came by and asked us if we were happy with our meal. We were! Then a conversation began and progressed through a few different topics. Finally the subject of their Macaroni Grill's "e-mail program" for regular customers came up and I told her that I was signed up and had given them my birthday information. She asked me when my birthday was, and I told her it was a week earlier. The bottom line was that I had not received anything from the company for my birthday and the manager showed a bit of concern. She then offered me a dessert of my choosing at no charge. No further questions. No check of my drivers license. Just a question as to what dessert I would prefer. She returned a couple of minutes later with a single candle on my cheesecake and wished me happy birthday! Moments like this go a long way towards building a loyal base of happy customers. Do you think this will affect my decision when I decide to go out for "chain" experience again? You bet it will!

Shopping and Eating Out Are Both Forms of Entertainment These Days!

All restaurant owners and retail shop owners need to think of their business as entertainment. Actually they need to think of their business more like a play. The first act is when the customers walk through your door. The minute they walk in, they should be seeing something they like outside and inside. One of those things should be a very sincere and friendly greeting from someone who likes people.

Shopping, the discovery process by the customers, as well as the lights, colors, and interaction between store or restaurant staff, become the main act. Obviously the dinner experience, or the shopping experience is the main storyline of the main act. The grand finale becomes the dessert and the actual purchase transaction of the product, or the meal. This is where efficiency, a pleasant purchase process. and sincere appreciation is shown for the customer's business. If you're going to screw up something, making it hard for the customer to give you their money should not be the place to do it! Fail here and you've compromised the whole effort, not to mention last impressions.

One of the things that always bothers me, is, once you ask for the check, it seems like it takes forever for your waiter to bring it to you, or else it's the receipt you are waiting for. This alone is the downfall of a lot of waiters and waitresses!

Satisfied Customers Are No Longer Enough

Owners of all types of businesses must understand that "customer satisfaction" is no longer enough! There is too much competition in this world, and there is actually often too many restaurants, too many stores and too many strip malls. Customers are more sophisticated and better informed on what's out there than ever before. Customers can be touched and marketed to by Facebook, e-mail, mobile marketing, and Tweeting, along with all the old fashioned ways of advertising. Having a satisfied customer means that you are doing the "minimum" to keep the customer coming back! A "satisfied" customer can be taken away in a heart-beat by a new kid on the block, or someone with better service, or cheaper prices. The ONLY way you can keep customers coming back again and again and again, is by continuing to try to surpass their expectations, not by disappointing them or satisfying them!

©2012 Retail Redefined and RetailRichez. All rights reserved.


How would you rate your average customer service experience in the last year?

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    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      In the last few years, RR, I have found that service in many stores and restaurants has declined considerably. I'm not sure if this is due to increased turnover, fewer staff members or just an increased sense of 'laissez faire' on the part of store associates and servers.

    • sweetguide profile image


      6 years ago from River side

      Very informative piece and well written too. Excellent.


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