What’s so hard about providing excellent customer service? Food and drink now contributes over £31 billion to the UK economy, according to the Food & Drink federation, and hospitality has become ‘substantially more productive’, says the UKHospitality ‘Future Shock’ 2019 report. But, despite this growth, consumers are less happy than ever, which is likely to impact the long-term prosperity of businesses.
The UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) – including results from quick-service restaurants (QSRs), cafés and eateries – has seen a continuous decline in customer satisfaction from 2017 to 2019:
Graph from July 2019 UKCSI report.
Their Chief Executive, Jonna Causon, says this is because fewer organisations have acted to improve customer satisfaction year on year. As you can imagine, these issues are often tied to efficiency and communication. She goes on to say that businesses using technologies for customer service that address those two areas, such as apps for banking, have seen improvements where others have not.
Here are five lessons that hospitality could learn from other industries about providing excellent customer service.
1. Know (and promote) your products and services
Customers are researchers. More than ever, good customer service in hospitality is about providing access to information. People are looking up menus online, checking seating availability on your website and reading reviews – and when speaking to someone, 90 percent of consumers want an ‘immediate’ response.
Apple’s employee mantra is ‘you’ve got to love the product’. Their customer-facing employees focus on long-term value creation with their ‘three Fs’ – feel, felt, found: a response structure to customer questions that promotes empathy. So, don’t just provide information to your customers, but do so in a way that makes them feel cared about and generates trust. Trust is key to brand loyalty.
Customer service roles are becoming more complex. While automation and self-service are on the rise, the role of servers is changing. Servers must provide an experience, deal with individual needs, avert crises, and be exemplary brand evangelists (oh, and serve customers!). In Finland, for example, expertise is recognised in the education sector. Their world-class education system shows that ongoing training, high standards and good pay enable organisations to provide the best service, not just an average service.
2. Listen to feedback (even if it’s negative)
Net promoter scores (NPS) and other methods of gathering feedback are useful for figuring out where to make improvements. You can then communicate changes and take a proactive, data-driven approach to decision-making.
Overall, UK business has seen a small increase in NPS, mainly due to a drop in ‘detractors’ – but there has been no growth in ‘promoters’. Clearly there’s more work to be done, but this is a step in the right direction. How regularly do you check in with your customers?
The Annual Consumer Complaint report for British Gas is a refreshingly honest approach to complaints handling. They show not just the successes, but the failures. And, they detail how they plan on resolving issues moving forward, from improving ways of working to introducing new systems. In publicising this information, British Gas is making themselves accountable to customers for change within their business.
On the other hand, in the world of music and technology, Spotify is publicly adopting an ‘engaged audience’ approach. Their Twitter @SpotifyCares and ‘random acts of kindness’ show they know that doing more than what their customers expect – even with something small – is worthwhile.
Business owners or marketers in the hospitality sector can make everything they do a chance to open up a conversation to the public – even if they have to be honest when things go wrong or spend a bit of extra effort to engage customers.
3. Foster employee happiness
In a survey of 293 large employers across 13 industries between 2008 and 2018, Glassdoor found a direct link between employee happiness and the level of customer service they provide. If you treat your employees well, your customers benefit from increased productivity and more willingness to go above and beyond.
When we look at the hospitality sector, specifically, there is a correlation between employee and customer satisfaction, as seen in these example food chains:
Netflix is an excellent example of how culture makes excellent customer service possible. They have a ‘people over process’ culture and they want their employees to have freedom and responsibility, which is an approach that drives performance. They’re not just nice to their employees, they set a high bar for excellence and expect it to be met.
Similarly, Southwest Airlines is rated one of the top places to work due to their culture, benefits and opportunities for equity. In more than 45 years of operations, they’ve never had redundancies or pay cuts. As a result, their employees are often newsworthy for the level of customer service they provide. Wouldn’t you love your eatery or café to make the news for an employee doing something so extraordinary as Sarah, who voluntarily helped a cancer patient in a bind – outside working hours and in the middle of the night?
Their Twitter demonstrates a dedication to customer happiness:
4. Meet demand with tech, automation and going digital
Technology, as we’ve mentioned, is a key source of opportunity for cafés, restaurants and other businesses in the food and drink sector.
Customers can benefit from more integrated systems that improve efficiency, and things like a more prominent digital presence and customer-facing technologies like mobile order and payments to help offer a more personalised experience. In particular, automation is inevitable, especially in sectors like manufacturing, retail and hospitality.
In the real estate world, companies like Residently offer an (almost) self-service experience through their application. They’ve reduced wait-times between finding a home to rent and moving in from an average of 30 days to just two. In our own consumer research (2019), we found that adults waste 28 minutes in a café queue per month, a number that rises to 61 minutes for 18-34 year olds. In every industry, people hate to wait!
Home inspection software is a growing trend in real estate as well. Agents can use 3D image capturing technology like Spectora to offer more comprehensive listings to potential buyers. In hospitality, businesses need to innovate in ways that empower their employees and give customers an extraordinary experience – your first step could be providing a digital menu.
From Starbucks’ mobile-only store to a robot-run McDonald’s, chains, QSRs and even independents are using technology to optimise customer service. Even in the world of law, tech like AI can be used to reduce the burden of repetitive tasks and speed up service. Lawyers can then give more attention to tasks that are more nuanced or complex, providing a better service where it matters most.
5. Use more personalisation
Technology also offers more opportunity for a personalised customer service experience. You can target customers, build loyalty and make customers feel they’re making a unique, tailored purchase. The 2017 Personalisation Report says that, of US respondents, 71 percent of buyers were frustrated when they had an impersonal experience. And, 40 percent said they bought something more expensive when the experience was personalised.
Tech like Holm, an in-store personalisation app, assists fashion retailers with increasing store turnover by more than 25 percent (or so says their website) by helping shoppers find ‘their style’. A great way for you to build customer loyalty is using technology that provides recommendations – the more these technologies are used by customers, the better the suggestions. And, you can use data to build tailored offers and discounts. For a restaurant, try a mobile ordering solution that gives customers a personalised experience based on their user behaviour and previous orders.
Banks, for example, are having to fight agile competitors in Fintech, not to mention the fact that ecommerce giant Amazon may soon be becoming a bank. These tech-forward companies have mobile solutions, personalisation and artificial intelligence on their side. By customising everyone’s purchasing experience, they don’t just make customers feel special; they make them feel more secure.
It’s worth thinking about what your top three priorities for improving your customer service would be, and maybe even which technologies might help you get there.
First, happy customers. Then…?
‘Companies need to look at the entire customer experience. How, for example, do the efforts of marketing, sales, and services integrate? Are they collaborative or siloed? You need to listen to both your employees and your customers.’
– Roy Atkinson, senior analyst at Informa Tech
77 percent of customers have a more favourable view of brands that ask for and accept customer feedback, according to Microsoft’s customer service report. With excellent service, you’ll have happy customers. Those customers are primed to fit into your marketing strategy as brand evangelists – and, if you ask for feedback, you can gather valuable data to help decision-makers keep the business focused on the customer.
The best way to do this is to make the most of social, tech and review platforms. For more information, download our guide: 5 ways to turn customers into online brand evangelists.