Great restaurants illustrate the importance of customer service and training.

I was on the treadmill at my local gym, keeping in step with the local news on the overhead TV. The guest that day was the owner of a restaurant I’d never been to. The owner, who does a lot of these promotions on television, was promoting a $2.12 breakfast special at her restaurant because she was appearing on Feb. 12. When I finished working out, I decided to reward myself so I headed there.

What had piqued my interest was the energy and enthusiasm of the owner of the restaurant. That and the temptation of tasting what she lovingly described as the best cup of coffee. I’m a coffee junky. Plus, the restaurant is located in a small airport which allows me a chance to enjoy another passion of mine, flying. I don’t have a plane of my own, but I love looking at all the different private planes, from tiny single engine props to the large corporate jets. I love how they climb over the mountains defying gravity as they soar toward their destinations. I was pumped!

When I arrived, the lone waitress and cook seemed to know nothing about the promotion. So, I decided I’d mention it to the waitress. She was very nice and very accommodating. But she and the cook were unprepared for what a good job the owner had done on television at getting so many other people to show up. Everything bogged down.

The food took forever as the overworked staff strained to feed 75 customers. This was not a normal breakfast day. And yes, the food was great and it was a great bargain, but I left wondering what the service is like normally.

So, why am I telling you this story?

I only tell you this because I know that many of you are sharp marketers who will do some great promotional thing like this. And I want you to work as hard on communicating with the staff and providing the necessary coverage that you’ll need to take full advantage of the spectacular job you’ll do at getting the phones to ring.

When you do a great job with your marketing campaign and you’re successful at making the phones ring, but you don’t respond properly, you’re burning potential customers and everyone they tell.

And yes, I too have squandered great marketing opportunities in my former business life as the owner of a very successful plumbing, heating and cooling business in New York. Fortunately for me, someone took the time and effort to let me know what I needed to do the next time.

What I learned to do was to think about what will happen if I get the phones ringing. How do I want to answer those calls? How do I handle those callers that I can’t accommodate today? How do I plan to make it up to them so I have a second chance to earn their business? Is there a way for me to ramp up for the expected response?

The answer is “yes.”

The keys are proper planning, good communications between staff and management, and utilizing training and outsourcing options as tools that give you the best chance of maximizing your ability to handle the call. Keeping callers who have responded to you happy and wanting to do business with you is more important than figuring out how to get them to call in the first place.

Restaurant Role Models

We’ve all been to a restaurant on a Saturday night and seen how to handle a big demand for services well or poorly. The great restaurants honor their reservations, serve appetizers to those who are waiting and they’re clear about the approximate wait times.

The poor restaurants act as if you’re bothering them. They don’t honor their reservations, they don’t update those who are waiting, and when you’re finally seated, the service is lousy. Cold food, dishes served to the wrong people and only half of the table has any food. You can’t get the dirty dishes taken away and there’s no one to refill your drink.

Proper training of the staff maximizes the efficiency and consistency of those we serve. It makes an unpredictable business more predictable. Some restaurants have a set response procedure for everything they do so that when the customer experience is less than satisfying, they make it right immediately. Free dessert anyone? You’re not leaving dissatisfied.

The best restaurants do a ton of training. Role-playing is a big part of this training. We can do the same thing in our PHC businesses. We just need to practice the whole sequence of how a call comes in, gets dispatched and gets done, as well as how paperwork is done and customer satisfaction is checked.

Back to restaurants again … they need to do a lot of training because staff is always changing. Do our shops have staff turnover? Yes! Even if you’re a small shop, people retire, get promoted, get sick, quit and, yes, they actually have the nerve to die! So, training new people as well as continuing training for those people we already have is essential to keep pace with making the phone ring more.

Great restaurants are excellent at customer service and a good role model to follow. They have it a whole lot tougher than we do. And that’s why my wife has a standing order to shoot me if I’m ever tempted to own a restaurant. I’ve never had anyone send back a half-eaten boiler because it wasn’t hot enough.

By the way, the coffee was great! The view was wonderful and the ceramic-airplane sugar caddy was memorable! But I haven’t been back to that restaurant since.