Six Things That Will Bring Customers Back

Hostess welcoming couple to restaurant

It takes eight seconds for your customers to decide if they’re enjoying themselves in your operation, and whether they’ll be coming back.

A 2014 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found the average American attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds since 2000. Researchers say to blame our “digital lifestyle”—our inability to put down our smartphones and other portable devices.

The best way to deal with our collective attention deficit disorder is to raise the bar on customer service. Customers should be able to feel your commitment to their great time from the moment they walk in your door.

Here are 6 qualities that will capture customers’ attention right away and keep them coming back.

1. Quality

This is the most misunderstood term in our industry. Many operators view “good enough” as acceptable quality. It isn’t. You have to strive for exceptional quality in every way. Ask each team member to define “exceptional quality.” Post the answers on the wall. Then ask how each job classification, from buser to cook, can demonstrate exceptional quality. Make that standard part of their job description.

2. Appreciation

Hosts are front and center in those first eight seconds—they have to be consistently engaging and keep guests aware of wait-time status for tables. A server’s first words when greeting seated guests should be a variant of “Thanks for coming in.” Make sure guests feel the love.

3. Attention

Your entire team needs to keep its eyes up and open, scanning the environment for guest signals—chairs pushed back, heads up, eyes looking for an employee. It is everyone’s job to respond to these signals. “Not my table” is unacceptable. What that phrase says to a customer is, “You don’t care about me.”

4. Responsiveness

Responsiveness has three parts—ask, act, report. Ask questions of each guest and write down what you hear them say. If a guest tells you something needs attention, act right away, whether it’s a compliment for an employee or a complaint about a dish. Report back to the table what you did, and remind your guests how much you appreciate feedback.

5. A Focus-On-Others Mentality

What the customer wants is paramount. You can have rules about how often a server should visit a table, but the truth is, every customer is different. Teach your waitstaff—and any other customer-facing employees—to draw out what a customer needs and expects. Does the customer want a visit every 10 minutes? Is the customer in a hurry to get the check? Do the guests want to linger with a cup of coffee after paying?

6. The Experience

Gaining repeat business is never about just one thing. But losing repeat business is always about one thing—the inability to continuously work all five of the aforementioned qualities into a package. The constant interplay of these attributes is “service.” Organizations that are constantly firing on all these cylinders are able to make a positive impression in just eight seconds.

All this requires an ongoing investment in team development. It’s not an occasional luxury. Remind your team members every day that they need to give customers a reason to come back. Challenge staffers: “When you go out and find someone who treats you in a way you like, treat your customers that way. When you go out and find someone who does not make you feel valued, remember that feeling and don’t treat your customers that way.”

Anyone not contributing to your success is detracting from it. Remember, a business is only as good as its worst employee. In a world of ever-shortening attention spans, you don’t have the time to waste. 

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