I ate at Houston’s the other day. For the uninitiated, this place is a well-oiled machine (and a cash cow no doubt) serving fantastic food with stellar service.
I ordered my usual Hawaiian fish sandwich, substituting mixed greens for the french fries it comes with. My perky waitress said I couldn’t do that and that I could pay $5 for a side salad or choose one of the three other vegetable sides for no charge.
I was stunned. My routine was being upset by another greedy restaurant charging way too much for a bunch of grass (mixed greens has to be far less expensive than the brussel sprouts they offered).
I said that I would like mixed greens at no additional cost. She said no, she couldn’t do that.
Finally, I offered that the last three times I had been there I ordered the exact same thing with no issue. She gave me an emphatic “no” without any further explanation at which point I shut down.
Maybe it was just a blip, but a noticeable one.
Quite frankly, Houston’s is so consistent, you can count on your host or hostess warmly greeting you, someone stopping by your table to say hi within 60 seconds, and your food arriving less than 10 minutes after you place your order. It happens every time.
Now contrast that with my experience at Frontrunners, my local athletic shoe store where experts are well trained in all aspects of their shoes. They not only measure your foot, but also watch you walk and run, and ask a host of questions about how you’ll be using the shoes. Then they offer up a couple options. I’ve been a customer for years because of this expertise.
I was trying on one shoe and it turned out to be like a bad goldilocks dream. One was too small, one was too big and of course, the one I needed that was just right wasn’t in stock, nor was it on order.
Not to worry, my very helpful sales associate found it at a New Balance store that the company owned and it was just ten minutes away. When I asked if he could just have the shoe sent over, he said that it would be more beneficial for me to go there as I could then try on all three shoes and compare and contrast the three sizes again without having to wait to have the shoe sent over, causing me to make a return trip to Frontrunners.
I went to the New Balance store and a great guy named Mani worked with me on the three sizes, on fitting the shoes with inserts and made the experience altogether fantastic.
See the difference?
THE REAL WORLD RETAILING TAKEAWAY
The customer is always right. Period.
We’ve heard it a million times. So why do retailers and restaurants not realize that customers can go elsewhere? Do whatever it takes to hold onto your customers.
Here’s a few ways to make customers feel like they’re special or mitigate their unhappiness.
- Empower employees. Allow your employees to do whatever it takes to accommodate the customer’s wishes. Step outside the boundaries, outside the rules and outside the policies to make the customer happy.
- Forget about expiration dates. Accept the expired coupon, gift certificate or whatever other offer your customer brings in, so long as you can accommodate them (e.g. it’s perfectly acceptable to not give a customers a free gift with purchase if you no longer have the gift).
- Offer an explanation. Most customers are understanding. If you find yourself in a situation where the customer is unhappy, then tell them why the policy is the way it is (without sounding self-serving)
- Post a return policy. If it’s right there in black and white, the customer will be much more understanding. And tell the customer (even if it is printed on the receipt) about a special return policy such as “no returns on sale items”. It helps in that rare instance you absolutely have to hold fast to the rules.
How are you making your customers feel like they’re special?