If you ask your customers for their opinions about their experience in your business, most will either offer praise or be rather noncommittal. The latter are likely unhappy with some element of their experience, but are hesitant to engage in what might seem to be confrontational. For this reason, while it is certainly advisable to seek their feedback in person (it shows that you care about their experience), it is also a great idea to provide them with an anonymous means of airing whatever complaints they might have. Providing them with this kind of anonymous forum will allow them to vent, which might save you from having a negative comment posted about your restaurant on online review forums such as Yelp.
Ironically, few patrons who offer negative feedback rank the quality of product as the main source of their displeasure. By far, the biggest complaint customers have is about the service they received. And the simple truth is that unhappy employees won’t give customers the kind of service they rightfully expect when they dine out. Therefore, if you want your customers to heap praise on your establishment, you need to be proactive in instilling a good working attitude in each and every one of your employees. Instilling a good attitude will not only make your customers happier, it will save you time, energy, and money, by reducing employee turnover and reducing the amount of time you have to spend training new employees. Here are a few tips to help you in that effort.
Be clear in your expectations. Being unsure about their duties and responsibilities is one of the main sources of employee dissatisfaction. Let them know, in no uncertain terms, what is expected of them, especially in areas that are unique to your business. A clear and comprehensive employee handbook can be a real benefit. It doesn’t have to be overly long or complex, but a description of your business mission, of each employee’s duties and responsibilities, and of unique procedures can go a long way toward making employees feel comfortable in their positions.
Encourage employees to assume responsibility. Some employees will do the bare minimum, generally because they see no need to do anything more. After all, they aren’t responsible for anything beyond their assigned duties, right? But if you show your employees that you trust them for more than the tasks they are assigned, many, if not most, will gain a sense of ownership in the establishment, and will demonstrate more incentive toward improving the customers’ experiences. Allowing employees to have greater input on things such as scheduling, daily specials, and the like can greatly increase their sense of investment in the job, and inspire them to improve their performance accordingly.
Acknowledge and reward positive behavior as assertively as you respond to negative behavior. Don’t assume that your employees have a clear perspective of how customers feel about the service they get. When an employee goes the extra mile to make a customer happy, or offers good suggestions about ways to improve service or efficiency, be sure to praise the employee, and let the other employees see you do it. The reward for good behavior could be as simple as being extra flexible in responding to the excellent employee’s scheduling. If the employee’s behavior is particularly outstanding, a more tangible reward might be in order – be it a raise or bonus in their paycheck, a free meal when they’re off duty, or other items. Don’t think of it as an added expense, because it will truly be an investment that will pay off handsomely.
(Note: Never publicly scold an employee who hasn’t performed as well as you expect. You will only embarrass them and reinforce any negative attitude they might have. While praise should be public, “attitude adjustments” should always be offered in private.)
Follow the Golden Rule in dealing with your employees. Simply treat them the way you would like to be treated. If they do something that really enhances your customers’ experience, give them the recognition they deserve. If their attitude and service needs improvement, address the situation itself, without deriding them personally. And if you are having a particularly difficult day, avoid the temptation to blame employees or vent your frustration on them. They aren’t merely servers, receptionists, or cashiers. They are also customers who have experienced poor service themselves. And most importantly, they are human beings, just like yourself. We’ve all had those bad days, and if we’re honest, we’ve all taken our frustrations out on our employees at times. If you determine that you’ve been unfair with an employee, be forthright in giving them the honest apology they deserve, and make a determined effort not to repeat your own venting episode.
In conclusion, your customers’ experience will be a direct reflection of your employees’ attitudes. The more engaged and involved your employees – all your employees – are in the operation of your business, the more motivated they will be to work to make your customers happy. And as you well know, a happy customer is not only a repeat customer, he or she is also a powerful marketing tool.