Building Customer Service into your Culture
In food and beverage businesses, 70 percent of employees in customer-facing roles don’t receive any customer service training, according to the 2019 TalentLMS Survey. For eateries that do, however, incorporate a holistic approach to solid service, the rewards can be high. “Pizza is your product, a mere starting point for what’s really happening when a customer orders a take-out, delivery or dine-in experience,” says Kevin W. McCarthy, a business advisor and chief leadership officer of On-Purpose Partners in Winter Park, Florida. “A seamlessly delightful pizza experience serves them well and wins a repeat customer.”
Breaking down the logistics to form a culture that focuses on treating clients well can take some time and planning. It often begins with leaders outlining their vision and flows into employee training techniques. It also encompasses additional touches that can be implemented throughout the restaurant. Following are several straightforward strategies that can take your customer service culture to the next level in your pizzeria.
- Consider your pizzeria’s purpose
“Customer service is ultimately a matter of the cultural norms,” McCarthy explains. “These customs, however, are rooted in the deep strategy of the business.” Think about your overall vision for the restaurant and evaluate what values are important. If you don’t have a clear vision and set of values, ask the question, “Why do we exist?” The answer will help define your overall purpose. You might come up with a response such as, “We exist to inspire customers through a creative menu.” You can then lay out ways to communicate this answer to diners. You might highlight photos of unique dishes on social media to build awareness and ask customers for their opinions on new menu items.
- Set an example
Showing respect and concern to staff members makes it easier for them to imitate a caring attitude to others. “Happy employees make for happy customers,” says Tiffany Beres, owner of three Marco’s Pizza locations in Deltona, Longwood and Winter Springs, Florida. Meeting regularly with employees and listening to their input is one method to put this approach into action.
Another technique: show staff members through your actions how you value customers. Walk around the restaurant and check on customers throughout their dining experience. Maintain a pleasant posture when chatting and follow up on any requests, such as bringing more sauce to a table or wiping up a spill right away.
- Outline expectations
Rather than starting to train new employees on their first day, address customer service in the interview phase, says Nancy Friedman, a two-time International Pizza Expo speaker and founder of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training. When sitting down with a potential hire, ask, “What type of customer service training have you had in the past?” If interviewees respond they haven’t had any, you might have a clean slate to work with. Those that have had customer training in the past might have ideas that differ from your policy regarding how to treat customers. Asking further questions on his or her experience can help you determine if the new hire will be a good fit and open to learning your guidelines.
During the training phase, “lay your own groundwork,” Friedman says. State how you greet customers, such as “We smile at clients, both on the phone and in person.” Those calling in will hear the positive tone of voice that accompanies a smile. Present phrases that can be used, such as “I am so glad you called” and “I am happy to help.” Note what not to say to customers, including “We are so busy” or “We never do that.” A script outlining phone etiquette and common customer conversations could also be given to new hires.
- Showcase extra touches
During a business trip to Siloam Springs, Arkansas, McCarthy ate at Fratelli’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria, where he saw a message indicating that customers in need could eat for free. Inspired by the restaurant’s generous policy, McCarthy decided to pay it forward. When he spotted two college students dining on pizza and soft drinks, he covered their bill anonymously. “I took joy in participating in the store’s public policy of giving back,” he says.
Employees who go above and beyond can be highlighted as well. If you have a wait staff member who is a teenager and regularly conveys a friendly face when interacting with diners, you might contact the individual’s parents to let them know the effort is appreciated. Extra measures taken for customers can also be written up and posted on a bulletin board or break room area for others to see.
- Create pathways to satisfaction
In the locations Beres oversees, staff members are prepared to respond to dissatisfied clientele. “All employees are empowered to make it right,” she says. They might offer a free meal or discount in response to a complaint. If the customer still isn’t satisfied, employees can call on a leader to address the situation.
Beres also sees that all real-life complaints are collected throughout the year. Then staff periodically gather to look at the material and role play the scenarios. “We see how leaders handle them,” she says. Employees can benefit by seeing how to handle criticisms and prevent future negative feedback.
The technique, coupled with an ongoing focus on customer satisfaction, doesn’t go unnoticed, Beres adds. “You’ll see it instantly in reviews on Google or Yelp.” Customers are more likely to include their thoughts on customer service if a restaurant’s staff impressed them or surprised them by going above and beyond to make their experience memorable.
5 Ways to be More Personable
“We try to make everyone feel like family,” says Don Lurie, owner of Fratelli’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. “We make a point to personally connect with all who come into our restaurant.”
To create an atmosphere that prioritizes relationships, add these guidelines to training manuals:
- Use customers’ names when speaking to them
- Get to know regular clients
- Ask diners how their meal was before they leave
- Invite dissatisfied customers to share their ideas for improvements
- Include well wishes in farewells, such as “Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Rachel Hartman is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.