(I am certainly not a food critic – but like most I do enjoy a positive dining experience; for a restaurant the experience is certainly greater than just the meal.)
Being the socially connected type (think iPhone: Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter – not High School or Tennis Club) my experience usually starts well before I get to the restaurant and ends well after I leave. Until recently, I did not even write restaurant reviews. I have shared my experience in different ways; through social technology. I am not going to try and figure out how the dining experience itself is broken down, food critics have that nailed. I can guess there is an atmosphere part, a food part and a service part – and probably other parts. Traditionally, 90% of the experience, or more, was contained within the 4 walls of the establishment; pre-2009. The rules are changing, and “12 years of experience” does not say much against the changing nature of the game. To me, it is what you have been doing and thinking during the past 2 years that will determine your ability to survive.
Enter the Social Web
With the growing population of patrons who own smart phones along with well established poor manners (guilty); we share, share and share some more. Prior to 2009 the number of times I would share a particular dining experience could normally be counted on one hand, at a future social engagement; dinner, bar-b-Que or a soccer game, talking to other parents while watching the kids. Fast-forward to 2011, I am multi-modal, sharing my location (Geo), a review (Yelp) a picture or experience (Twitter) and maybe pulling it all together via an update (Facebook). When I get notice something which needs more attention, I write a blog (like this Red Roof Inn post, which I just checked, had almost 4000 views). The total number of people who have access to seeing this post is > 5000 (If a few friends Re-Tweet on Twitter, that number will grow much larger). I am a realist and the number of people who read it or care is likely much much less (say 50 – 1%). But that is still 10x what it was pre-social. There is the additional element, something I tell my kids when they post to Facebook; “Google never forgets”. This is now searchable and will live on well beyond just a quick in-person conversation.
In the small town atmosphere where I live, Burlington, Vermont (Williston, actually a bit east) many local restaurants (and other businesses as well) have jumped into social media with both feet. Unfortunately, some believe that social media is simply another outbound marketing channel; you know, they talk and we are supposed to listen. But it gets worse, they do not have email skills either. There is a relatively new restaurant called The Farm House Tap and Grill (built where the only McDonald’s in the downtown area stood). I had high hopes, getting ready to go to the restaurant for the first time. I am not going to repeat my review as that tells most of the story. What was more disappointing was the response or lack of on different channels. In fairness, I did not try to call, I had no interest. What I did get back was the following:
“We realize that we did indeed go way past our quote times, that is our fault. I have been in the restaurant business for 12 years now and I too value a good customer service experience, which is what we strive for. I encourage you to come try us again, particularly not on UVM parents weekend when we clearly were overran.”
It was nice to receive a response via email (several Twitter replies went unanswered, here is the Twitter handle, judge for yourself). While there was recognition of an issue there was no attempt to make it right. What was I expecting, nothing too much – maybe just a bit more than I got. Maybe an offer of an appetizer on them. We all know that an appetizer is net neutral from a cost perspective, I would likely have had dinner as well. Not even a suggestion of which day/time might be better (other than that day was bad), nor if I am flexible. Nothing to a follow-up response. If someone has a bad experience, do what you can to make it right.
These things are just so easy. At some point, the novelty or ‘newness’ will wear off, and then they will be left with – well, themselves. So that I show a positive example, a local restauranteur who does it right, take a look at this twitter stream (Handy’s Lunch) – it is really not that hard. There are so many good sources of information where businesses can learn. They can read the statistics which say things like ‘help a customer with an issue and that person a much more likely to return’. Why establishments ignore the easy stuff and focus only on what a text book says is a bit concerning.
It is also worth noting that The Farm House Tap and Grill does a lot of old school social good. Using local farmers and donating a percentage of food sales in November to rebuilding the Intervale farm impacted twice this year by flooding. If they considered the value they could bring over time, maybe they would truly engage – maybe I am asking too much.
Am I being too harsh? Unfair?
The ability to provide customer service excellence is achieved by a harmonious dance between the people, processes and technologies supporting every modern business. These core building blocks make up the foundation of all world-class customer service organizations. Does this sound like your kind of customer service? Remember, customer service experience is the customer’s perspective, in response to your efforts. Your objective is to meet expectations, dare I say exceed, shooting for wow! correct? You are almost there; the machine is well oiled and firing on all cylinders – then the music changes (mixing metaphors, of course).
The funny thing about customers is that the expectations are never static; they are in a constant state of change. For one, when you exceed expectations, you just reset the bar. What is required to support this objective is dynamic ecosystem of technologies and with cultural changes allowing you to adapt to the changing needs of your customers. In order for the people – your customer support team; to meet these demands, a set of foundational technologies is not only required, but it is essential.
While things do change, not everything has the same rate of change. Many of the components such as Transactional systems, data warehouse, process governance, supply chain management need to be comfortably set in place, and simply do not change with high frequency. At the other end of the spectrum are social and mobile applications, with new ones cropping up almost daily; applications your customers (and agents) want and ‘have to have’. How can you bridge the gap? What kind of system sits in between and will allow you to differentiate your business from everyone else? You need to adapt and not have your team step on each other’s toes.
If we are to believe the American Express survey numbers, where “70% of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service – up from 9% last year”, then I would suggest that a customer centric approach to your customer service technology framework is critical to success. As an aside, this statistic bothers me, as it suggests a high tolerance (and willingness to pay) for lousy products, but that is a topic for another day. Customer champions (advocates) need to work tirelessly to resolve conflicts and cross-departmental silos and battles, which will certainly occur. Additionally, please make sure to include (as opposed to exclude) your valuable information technology folks as your success will depend upon their support.
We (Julie Hunt and myself) explored these points, looking at them from many different perspectives – having fun along the way. The detailed thoughts are shared in a White Paper titled “The Total Customer Service Experience”. If you would like to receive the full version of the white paper, please just let us know. No registration forms, just send us an email – firstname.lastname@example.org, and we would be happy to forward along a copy.