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Customer is king

Fact: a business can be made or broken by reputation. But how do you know what your customers really think of you and whether the word they are spreading is good or bad? EC spoke to Sally Whelan, director, The Mystery Dining Company, one of the UK hospitality industry’s leading customer experience analysts

Essentially Catering: Why is feedback so important? Surely people will let you know if they are not happy with something?

Sally Whelan: Customers are not just the heart of a business; they are also the eyes, ears and mouth. Operators who actively seek out objective observations and comparisons will have a competitive advantage. Without any form of mechanism in place to evaluate performance there is always a distinct possibility that an operator is unwittingly limiting sales potential by not offering the customer what they want.

EC: What is the best way to obtain feedback?

SW: Feedback can be obtained through comment cards, canvassing the opinions of friends and family, undertaking perception audits of local end users and suppliers, monitoring online review websites, asking for feedback on their own website, or by employing an independent third party. Whichever avenue is chosen, remember that food and drink is only a very small part of a customer’s experience.

Good service, for example, will make a customer feel special and is the difference between a run-of-the-mill experience and a memorable one. A recent industry-wide benchmarking project commissioned by the National Skills Academy for Hospitality found that while value for money is important (28%), the perceived warmth of service (31%) is even more so when considering why an individual would recommend a specific venue over another1.

EC: Which other areas should be addressed in a questionnaire?

SW: The customer is forming his or her opinion from the second they see
a venue, or earlier if they have called to make a booking. On arrival, they will be taking in aspects such as cleanliness, noise and general atmosphere before they even encounter a member of staff.

Don’t be deceived, whether it is picking up a sandwich to go, spending an evening out with friends at a pub, sitting down for a meal or even staying overnight somewhere, customers understand that they are spending money on more than just a product. They are investing in an experience; they want to be made to feel welcome and they want to come away from a venue feeling good. Feedback on all these experiences is invaluable.

EC: What is a Mystery Visit?

SW: Qualified assessors visit establishments anonymously armed with a comprehensive questionnaire that has been devised in conjunction with the operator to address operational processes, client groups or elements of the experience specific to their business.

A validated report supplied within 24 hours of the visit contains detailed information about the experience – from how quickly orders were taken through to the availability of individual menu items and how clean the restaurant was at the time of the visit.

Mystery dining can be used for a number of different purposes. Some operators use it to achieve consistency across a number of different outlets while others use it to help refine timings or their menus. Others use it to learn as much as they can about the perceptions of different customer groups.

Customer complaintsCustomer complaints

On occasion, you may receive feedback without asking for it. This will invariably be in the form of a complaint. Here is Sally’s advice on how to rectify situations that could possibly be damaging for your business.

The way complaints are handled can be a deal-breaker for some customers so it’s crucial to get it right.

A recent survey about how customers feel about giving feedback confirmed that, when making a complaint, acknowledgement by a member of the senior management team on duty is the preferred handling method (at 84%), with 94% of customers expecting to be compensated for a bad experience2.  Compensation preferences vary; if appropriate, offers of complimentary food or drink are well received by 7 out of 10 individuals, while money off the bill is a more popular alternative than a voucher if complaints are dealt with after a meal2.

Ensure all staff understand the protocol for handling an unsatisfied customer; for example, let staff know if they are able to offer a complimentary drink or dessert without checking with management first. This allows staff to be more reactive and not leave the customer feeling as though they are waiting for a resolution.

The Mystery Dining Company
T: 01225 470 281

1. Service benchmarking – Wave 2, National Skills Academy for Hospitality, Spring 2010
2. Customer Feedback Survey, The Mystery Dining Company, Feb 2010

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