Customer service rules
With customers counting every penny, many publicans are doing all they can to keep prices low to attract business through a number of tactical promotions and discounting. While this does undoubtedly have short-term benefits, it will be unsustainable in the long run and there is a bigger picture to look at – customer loyalty and advocacy. By Tim Ogle, CEO & co-founder of Retail Eyes
Customers are increasingly looking for more than just the cheapest price – they are looking for value for money and, despite rising costs, publicans must find cost-effective ways to add this value.
One of the most cost-effective ways to add value to an experience in the hospitality arena is through exceptional customer service. Historically, this has been seen as a way to deal with a customer when something has gone wrong or simply serving the customer in a transactional manner. Today this nod at customer service no longer suffices; publicans need to go a step further and expand customer service to customer experience, placing the focus on creating and delivering an experience that customers want to revisit time after time.
Service with a smile
The term ‘hire the smile’ has never been more apt than for those in the pub sector. Skills can be trained but personality cannot – a key point for businesses to consider when hiring.
Having conducted in excess of 250,000 customer-experience visits as a ‘mystery shopper’, Retail Eyes knows that the biggest impact on a customer’s experience is staff. Staff engagement is therefore crucial to what customers experience, and say, about a pub. Also essential is that staff are adequately trained so that they are crystal clear about the type of experience the venue intends to provide.
Here I must point out that, in the past, mystery shoppers were unfortunately viewed as ‘trying to catch people out’ or ‘spying’. Today’s mystery shoppers operate on a different level where feedback is used as a positive tool to improve customer experience rather than potentially negative criticism that is likely to lower recipients’ self-esteem and will not help their work performance.
Any business that is serious about its customer proposition must have a thirst for feedback and proactively seek this out on a continual basis. These businesses will adopt all-encompassing customer experience programmes that will include ongoing customer satisfaction surveys (online, SMS or Interactive Voice Response (IVR)), visual merchandising and location audits, and staff engagement surveys. Together, these will determine what will enhance customer experience, increase customer retention, drive advocacy and ultimately improve sales and profit.
You may feel that feedback is not required. However, whether you like it or not, the extraordinarily rapid growth of the social media jungle – through the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – has not only enabled customers to air their thoughts and opinions faster but also reach bigger audiences than ever before.
Problems occur in all businesses, however friendly and approachable staff can easily nip any customer experience issues in the bud and help stop any negative conversations. Customers really appreciate it when businesses take the time to address their individual problems and such actions can actually help turn what could have been a negative story into a positive one.
Top tips from Retail Eyes for creating an outstanding customer experience:
Mind your manners
This is the first rule of customer service. Even when it’s frantic, it’s important to be polite; it doesn’t cost a thing but poor manners can cost business
First impressions are everything
Give customers a warm welcome.By greeting customers as soon as they enter the venue, they are more likely to stay longer and spend more money
Stay calm at all times
When times are busy and queues are long, staff often bear the brunt of frustrated customers. The best way to deal with aggressive behaviour is to be calm, don’t raise your voice and do treat the customer with empathy and understanding. It’s unlikely that they will expect this response so you can turn the situation to your advantage. Generally, Britons are happy to queue up for something they value, and by communicating with them you can make their experience a much more positive one
The gift of feedback
Gaining feedback is vital to protecting your reputation. Without this, you’ll never know who is unhappy with your service and be able to take the steps necessary to tackle areas of poor service and rebuild your relationship with those customers.
Retail Eyes is one of the UK’s leading customer experience improvement agencies offering services including mystery shopping, customer satisfaction surveys, consumer panel surveys and retail & POS audits.
Greene King: not resting on its laurels
In October last year Greene King Pub Partners launched a new programme of customer experience surveys as part of its Value, Quality and Service campaign – a contract offered to the company’s licensees that gives continued support in improving any aspect of the business that will help to retain and increase customers.
Retail Eyes, which had previously provided customer experience surveys to all new Greene King licensees in their first year, helped the company develop the new programme, the purpose of which is to ensure that the values and advice of the Value, Quality and Service campaign are working effectively.
Every year, each leased and tenanted pub will receive four visits from a mystery shopper. These genuine customers then report back on their experience in five key areas that are essential to customer retention. Pubs are assessed on:
- Impressing customers
- Bar service with a smile
- Fantastic pub food
- Creating an outstanding impression
- Offering clean and fresh facilities.
Managing director for Pub Partners, Simon Longbottom, says: “Research proves that customer spend is directly influenced by the level of service received and the better the service, the more profit a licensee can make. It’s as simple as that.
“By conducting mystery visits in our pubs, we’re helping our licensees to see what is often right in front of their eyes and then helping them to make positive changes to their businesses as a result. By making some very small, simple alterations, and focussing completely on the customer experience, licensees can increase annual profits by thousands of pounds. High standards of service are vitally important to customers and a business’s success. That’s why we feel it’s important to provide this service free of charge to our licensees.
“We want to continually improve and we will therefore carry on with the surveys, seeking out frank, honest feedback to make sure we and our licensees are offering customers just what they want,” concludes Simon.
Greene King is one of the country’s leading pub operators and brewers of real ale with a heritage of brewing beer and running pubs that can be traced back over 200 years. The business operates 1400 pubs on a leased and tenanted basis throughout England.
Fuller’s looking good
Early June saw Fuller, Smith & Turner plc announcing its financial results for the 53 weeks ended 2 April 2011. Impressively, revenue was up 6% to £241.9 million (2010: £227.7 million) with profits for managed pubs and hotels up 15% with like-for-like sales up 3.9%. In an otherwise gloomy marketplace, Fuller has proved that it is doing something right. Not surprisingly, the company makes no bones about the fact that staff are a crucial part of its success.
“With wages in the UK running behind inflation, our customers’ incomes are being squeezed and we constantly have to earn their custom,” says chairman Michael Turner. “Never have the four pillars of our business been so crucial: outstanding cask-conditioned ales, delicious food, great wines and engaging service.
“The quality of our staff is of the utmost importance to Fuller – after all it is our staff who deliver the great experience our customers expect when they enter a Fuller’s pub or drink a pint of Fuller’s ale. To this end mystery shopper visits and training are an integral part of our business – over the past year 71% of our tenants have received specialist training. One of the specialist courses we encourage is the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Foundation Certificate. Results from this are already clear with our wine sales to tenants growing by nine per cent last year.
“I also believe that our focus on recruiting and developing skilled chefs to cook fresh food with locally sourced ingredients sets us apart from our competition.”