Put yourself in your patrons’ shoes to find out if you're on your customer service "A" game.
When was the last time you asked a customer for honest feedback? If your answer is, “not lately,” you may not truly know what's great (and what needs improvement) at your café or restaurant. And not knowing what needs improvement will likely lead to a loss of business.
Not only should you solicit feedback from patrons, you should take on their experience as your own. Among the benefits of walking in your customers’ shoes:
- You'll uncover possible shortcomings in your products or service
- You may find better ways to engage customers
- You'll identify what is working well—so you can build on it
- You'll likely gain greater empathy for customers
- You'll discover why you may be losing customers
Here are some great ways to learn your customers’ experience firsthand:
Play Undercover Boss
Do your employees treat your customers well? They’re probably doing a pretty good job if you’re treating them the way you want customers to be treated, and you’ve trained and empowered them to make any situation right with customers (rather than hamstringing them with rigid policies). But you need to know for sure how the ship is being sailed when you’re not around.
You don't need to don a costume and pretend you’re Joe Public, but you should consider giving a friend or two gift certificates for a coffee or a meal in exchange for their brutally honest feedback on your food and your staff’s customer service. Do this once a month or so, and ask them to visit at different times of day.
If you’re not comfortable having a friend go undercover, at least offer customers a free drink in exchange for filling out a brief survey through SurveyMonkey or another survey service. Hand out cards with the survey link printed on them, and an offer for a “free drink for answering five quick questions.” Make the questions brief, rating your business on a scale of 1-5 for cleanliness, friendliness, speed of service, food quality and atmosphere. Also provide an opportunity to give specific feedback (but don’t require it, as some folks hate longhand questionnaires.) When participants complete the survey, they’ll receive a coupon via email.
How’s the phone etiquette among your staff? Using a phone other than your cell, call your store with questions about hours, the menu, etc. How long does it take for your call to be answered? Is the employee friendly, patient, knowledgeable? Especially test your staff’s phone etiquette during busy hours—but if your questions aren’t urgent and you’re dragging out the conversation, they should feel free to ask if they can “call you back at a less-busy time.” (Give them a fake call-back number, or again, have a friend do the detective work for you!)
Take a walk around the neighborhood near your shop. Note the potential customers around you. Is there a church nearby that has a group meeting every Wednesday? Maybe run a special promotion for members. Are there a lot of businesses within walking distance? Weekday lunch specials may be a way to lure them in.
Visit the nearby competition as well, noting their menu items (and what they're charging), and what kind of customers they attract. Also, notice how satisfied their customers look.
Test Your Web Presence
How long has it been since you’ve perused your website—especially from a mobile device? Is it easy to navigate? If you accept reservations or sell merchandise online, how easy and accurate is the process? How many steps does it require? Are packages shipped promptly? Are email questions answered within a few (working) hours?
Visit competitors’ websites and test their user-friendliness as well. You might get some ideas that you can easily integrate into your own site.
Act on Your Findings
After surveying customers and experiencing your establishment firsthand (or through friends), what’s the weakest area of your business? Is it customer service? Pricing? Consistency?
Once you’re armed with knowledge of your weaknesses, it’s time to turn them into strengths. Re-inspire your employees, revamp your menu or décor—whatever it takes.
But first, get out there and start listening to your customers! Put on their shoes and see their needs from their point of view. It may not be comfortable, but you'll gain invaluable insights—so you can make adjustments that will resonate with them, and earn you greater loyalty and word-of-mouth promotion.