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How Restaurants Can Fix The Internet (or at least its Customer Service)

Written by Kayla Brehm | Aug 25, 2014 2:30:36 PM

$700 … a bargain.

There are few situations where such an assertion doesn’t come off as lunacy. One such situation would be comparing the price and customer service experience of a high end dinner to the price and customer service experience of doing nearly anything online.

We’ve all gone through customer service experiences online that make going down a lava slip and slide sound like a delightful weekend activity. Some (read: everyone) might say that customer service problems are an epidemic in web-based industries. The answer to this problem is simple: walk into a good restaurant and experience what happens next.

Lesson 1: Efficiency can be Personalized.

Teacher: Eleven Madison Park (New York City)

The Process:

  • The Greeter warmly greets those entering by name (read: paid to Facebook stalk).
  • The Maitre’d hears the names and signals to the waiter whether to direct the party to their table or the bar (depending on if the table is ready or not).

The Result:

  • Seconds are saved by eliminating waiting.
  • If customers go to the bar: restaurant makes money.
  • If customers are seated: clock starts ticking until next group is seated.

The effect is revenue coming in efficiently, wrapped in an illusion of absolute attention to the individuals at the table and apparent concern with nothing but their enjoyment and well being.  Eleven Madison Park has managed to personalize their dining experience and create a top notch customer service experience, all while optimizing the efficiency of their profit model. The owners of Eleven Madison Park have implemented these changes to the tune of roughly $11 million a year in revenue and $2 million a year in profit. This is up from Eleven Madison Park not being profitable prior to the current team taking over.

It is entirely possible for a tech company to do this. Like the customer service at Eleven Madison Park, speed, consideration, and simplicity are the building blocks to a positive customer service experience in technology. Eleven Madison Park is the only restaurant in New York, and one of just four in the United States, to receive a 29/30 for service from Zagat.

For a technology company, deploying an Eleven Madison Park-esque customer service experience can be as simple as having caller ID so the customer is greeted by name, or a simple chat solution that empowers customer service agents to fix problems without needing to transfer people. The result, like at Eleven Madison Park, would be a personalized experience that also operates more efficiently, allowing for both higher customer service ratings, and more transactions being completed. In short, the more efficient a process, the happier the customer and the better off the business.

Lesson 2: Implemented Correctly, Cost Cutting Can Lead to Better Customer Service

Teacher: Alinea (Chicago)

The Process:

  • Eliminate tablecloths.
  • Create an algorithm based on airplane ticket pricing where people pre-pay a price based on demand in that time slot.

The result:

  • Absence of tablecloths saves $42,000 annually and the head chef sprinkles dessert onto the wooden table to the delight of patrons.
  • The algorithm makes no shows (20% industry average) virtually 0%, minimizing wasted food and maximizing staff prep time for each party.

Many consumers are familiar with the process of what happens when a technology company cuts costs: hold time sky rockets, systems crash, emails are never responded to and, generally speaking, the customer experience as a whole takes a walk off of a cliff.

The takeaway for technology companies is that no matter what, be it removing tablecloths or doing away with standard reservations, Alinea’s number one focus is enhancing the customer experience. Technology companies often leave customers feeling like an inconvenient complication of selling a product. If a restaurant made a patron feel like an impediment to the process of making food, it would get eviscerated on social media.

For tech companies, like for Alinea, cost cutting need not be rocket science. It can be as simple as implementing work from home days (save millions on electricity) or going the Mark Hurd route and ensuring optimal efficiency across all business procedures, just so long as the customer experience doesn’t suffer.

Lesson 3: At the End of the Day, It’s About People

Teacher: Gary Danko (San Francisco)

At Gary Danko the “process” is wildly simple:

The Result:

  • Everyone ignores the perhaps mysterious single Michelin star and the incredible quality of the food, to nearly exclusively rave about how “fun,” “impeccable,” “witty,” and “memorable” the service is.
  • Perhaps due to its great customer service, Gary Danko is considered superior to comparably rated restaurants by many San Francisco locals.

Gary Danko’s example reminds technology companies that everything they do, from creation of a product, to staffing was, at some point, designed to improve the experience for the customer. Gary Danko’s reviews, more than any other of the restaurants in this article, talk about people who come back because they enjoy the staff.

Statistics support that anecdote, 59% of Americans would try a new brand/company for a better customer service experience. Even more significantly, as of 2011, 7 out of 10 Americans said they’d spend more with companies that they believed provide excellent customer service, and most strikingly of all, 81% of companies with strong customer service outperform their competition. In a sentence, people are, above all else, interested in engaging with other people.

The world of customer service in technology can learn a lot from restaurants. The obvious: customers want to feel like they are the number one priority to the person serving them and like when their concerns are the concerns of their agent. They want to feel like their timeframe is what matters and that an efficient and quick solution is the only solution. Most of all, they want to believe that the voice on the other side of whatever medium they’re communicating through is coming from a person just like them. Hardly profound, but something that customer service online seems to have lost track of. I was going to try to return a set of $20 headphones I bought online, but instead, I think I’ll save myself the frustration and just go to Alinea.