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A CARSTAR executive once told me that he advises franchisees to train their front-office staff to come out from behind the counter and greet each customer warmly and enthusiastically when they arrive at the store. That might seem trivial to some, but I’m a firm believer in that approach based on a recent experience I had a restaurant.
I took my son out to dinner at a local pizza establishment, and we wanted to get in and out pretty fast because we had the driving range, batting cage and putt-putt course to hit, all in one night. The hostess said we should seat ourselves, so we did. We then proceeded to twiddle our thumbs for about 10 minutes while absolutely no one greeted us or arrived at our table. I’m not easily perturbed, but as a former server who was trained to greet customers within 30 to 45 seconds of their entering the restaurant, I was thoroughly miffed.
I got up and told my son we were going to eat somewhere else. But before I left, I marched into the kitchen and announced that they had just lost business and we were going down the street to their competition. Walking out of the restaurant, I half expected to see someone chase after us and plead with us to come back. I mean, with the economy the way it is, every little bit of business helps, right? What a fool I was. We were ignored when we walked into the restaurant, and we were ignored on the way out.
We drove about a couple blocks down the street to the next restaurant, which turned out to be Applebee’s. We walked toward the front door, and I could feel that my collar was still hot. In fact, I think I was boring a hole in the ground with my eyes, so I was caught a little off-guard when a girl swung the door open wide for us and said, “Welcome to Applebee’s!”
It looked as though she was one of two hostesses manning the front of the house, and I figured that they probably alternate seating guests and opening that door. And I thought, “What a brilliant customer service tactic!” It sounds trivial, but it was just the thing to brighten my mood. That one gesture of opening the door said to me, “We’re glad you’re here and we want to earn your business.” I’ll bet it’s one of their standard operating procedures.
Once inside, I saw that the restaurant was bustling. Everyone had either food or drinks, and no one sat unattended. We were served quickly and efficiently, and in about 40 minutes we were on our way to the fun park follies.
What irks me about the first restaurant is that a man with an apron came out twice to service take-out customers and made eye contact with us twice…yet didn’t tell anyone we hadn’t been greeted or served yet. At the restaurant I worked at years ago, I was trained to greet a customer regardless if it was your job or your particular “zone,” to at least say “Welcome to ABC,” place a couple napkins down and tell the customer that their server would be right with them. It looked like the pizza place was understaffed, and it might have been due to the current economy, but this was a clear example of short-term cuts impacting long-term business. Bad strategy.
So, here’s a question for you. How warmly and enthusiastically do you greet customers? What things do you do to convince them that you want their business bad and that there’s no need to get another estimate because this is the shop you want your baby fixed at? Don’t think it doesn’t matter because it does, and it’s even more important in today’s environment when repairs are hard to come by.
And look, sometimes things get hectic and we can’t service a customer right away, but we should at least make them comfortable, offer them a beverage and let them know that they will be attended to in a few minutes.
I know some business owners who feel that their places of business are no different than their homes, and they treat customers just the same as they would houseguests. I think that’s a good philosophy to live by.
I know whose house I’m going back to next time.
Jason Stahl, Editor
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