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6 Tips for Catering to Customers

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The nation's best restaurants go above and beyond when dealing with customer service—and your shop can do the same.

With a foundation based on being detail- and team-oriented when working with customers, Luke Shimp has cultivated a rabid following with his five Twin Cities restaurants, Red Cow and Red Rabbit. Of his five current restaurants, both focus on a high-quality tavern experience, each sits at 4.5 stars or higher after over 5,000 total Google reviews. His Red Cow restaurants have grown rapidly—from around $5.6 million in revenue in 2014, to nearly $15 million in 2016.

Shimp says this growth and positive feedback of his restaurants has been all about offering an elevated guest experience through his entire team, not just serving great food.

“We’re in the hospitality and the food business,” Shimp says. “We’re expected to have great food, but we’re also expected to give great hospitality.”

Offering an elevated guest experience is something that can extend to any business, to which B.J. Lee, COO of the Institute for Automotive Excellence, can attest.

“If you just fix cars, but you don’t have the rest of it, you’re not a game changer,” Lee says. “We need to go above and beyond to win that customer over.”

This means as soon as customers come in the door, Lee says, you need to offer great hospitality and treat them with the utmost respect.

On the national side, Dairy Queen has over 6,400 restaurants throughout the nation, and was one of the first restaurants to start franchising. Carolyn Kidder, the senior consumer relations manager at Dairy Queen for the past 16 years, oversees all praises, complaints and requests from the brand’s customers, both on and offline. With her help, the brand has raised a devoted following of over 475,000 followers on Twitter, and more than 11 million likes on Facebook.

From handling unruly customers to responding to both negative and positive reviews, there are plenty of tips shop owners can take from restaurants when it comes to quality customer service. Here are six tips the two customer service experts offer for servicing a customer base.


1. Get the whole team on board.

Shimp attributes much of what he learned as a business owner to his career as a chassis specialist in NASCAR. He spent three seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, winning the NASCAR Winston Cup Series with Bobby Labonte in 2000.

The secret to his driver’s successes? Teamwork, and a strong attention to detail.

“There were over 43 teams every Sunday competing for the checkered flag,” Shimp says. “It’s 100 percent about the details and preparation. It wasn’t always the best driver that won, but it was usually the best team.”

Shimp’s time in NASCAR helped him devise the four core values in his restaurants: we want to win, we love this, we care tons, and team first. Shimp makes sure to hire and train on these core values, and each comes back to improving the customer’s experience.


2. Use your EQ (emotional intelligence).

At Shimp’s restaurants, every time a guest has an issue, or an experience that wasn’t how he or she wanted it to be, one of their leaders speaks with the individual to see what the issue is, paying specific attention to his or her emotions and body language.

“Oftentimes they just want to share their experience and have someone show that they care,” Shimp says. “It’s important to get involved and be engaged with the guest to find out what they want.”

To do this, Shimp has his staff specifically focus on emotional intelligence, which involves reading a guest’s facial expressions to find his or her level of anger and disappointment. After reading the guests and seeing what their initial emotions are, Shimp says you can have a conversation with them, and calculate the correct response to improve the customer’s experience.


3. Always be engaged—and ask questions.

Shimp says it’s a learned skill to get better at emotional intelligence, and this involves always being actively engaged with your customer base, and asking questions about their experiences, and where you may have fallen short.

“The more questions you’ll ask, the quicker you’ll learn EQ, and the more natural it will be,” Shimp says.

Kidder also says it’s important for the person at the front counter to ask questions of a disappointed customer, and to do so with a kind demeanor. That way, you can have a customer tell you about his or her experience, and detail what happened so you can find a solution.

In dealing with an upset customer, Lee says that service advisors may need to let customers vent without interruption to get everything out before taking these next steps.

“Then you can say, ‘I’m really sorry you had this problem, let’s see how we can get this fixed for you,’” Lee says.


4. Give them an incentive to return.

Finding a way to make a mistake right often means giving customers an incentive to return when necessary, Kidder says. This might be a reimbursement depending on how serious the issue is, or an offer of additional services. Often, at her restaurants, this is a relatively small investment, like a coupon for a free sundae.

While Shimp says that many upset customers just want to be heard rather than receiving something free, he never wants a customer to pay for anything that didn’t live up to his or her expectations. If a customer is truly unhappy with his or her experience, a manager will offer a refund, or a gift card, to ensure a return visit.

For repair shops, Lee says this incentive to return can be relatively small, like a coupon or gift card for a free dinner at a local restaurant, or $50 off on the next visit.


5. Offer useful feedback on reviews.

When it comes to customer service outside of the restaurant, the director of operations at Red Cow and Red Rabbit responds to every Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google or Facebook review that is three stars or less. When it’s less than three stars, the director of operations responds to the customer, offers a point of contact to talk with the customer further, or sends them a gift card for the customer to return.

Kidder has specific social media guidelines she shares with franchisees, which state that personal, internal discussions should try to be shifted offline. Kidder also makes sure that the Dairy Queen franchisees know who the main contact is if a guest has a serious issue online.

“We try to take serious conversations offline, and we’ll try to have internal discussions when it comes to the customers,” she says. “But we don’t delete comments from our feed unless they’re vulgar.”


6. Share both positive and negative reviews.

While she mostly handles negative customer feedback, Kidder encourages members of the Dairy Queen family to share positive comments and feedback from customers through their own Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Shimp and his managers also work to share the positive experiences customers had with the restaurants as well. If there’s an especially glowing review from a customer, it will be shared with the restaurant’s staff during team meetings.

Lee says it’s vital to share both positive and negative reviews with your staff, for them to understand and see important feedback from customers.

“If they’re doing great, let’s share the good ones,” Lee says. “If they’re negative, let’s review what happened, what went wrong, and what could we have done differently to avoid this.”

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