|Son of Man (1964) - Magritte
In the toughest trading climate I have known in over 30 years experience of the hospitality industry and the pub sector in particular, I have noticed "increased chatter" about customer service, mystery visits, direct feedback and social advocacy. The former two terms I have been well acquainted with over the years but it is the latter that have caught my attention.
For a pub to be successful these days there are a myriad of factors that need to coalesce: environment (a clean and tidy pub), the offering (the drinks, food and entertainment) the brand (that which encapsulates your pub's core values and identity) and the customer experience (service, satisfaction and the "relationship" they have with you). By engaging with your staff through motivation and training so that they "buy in" to what you are trying to achieve at your pub you stand the most chance of success. The only trouble for most time poor licensees is it's difficult to see the wood for the trees and competing demands and sometimes innate subjectivity can cloud our view of our businesses. Ask yourself when was the last time you really stood back and looked at what you and your pub do, how things run and what you could do to improve things?
For some pubs engaging with a mystery visit programme can be the answer and I have for a long time advocated their use, whether informally (we can all drum up a family member or old friend to come in and have a butchers at what goes on when we're not around) or formally (with mystery visits and reports); and we can all ask "how was your meal?" in terms of feedback. But is it enough? Are we asking the right questions? Are we putting these responses to the best use to benefit our businesses?
It’s probably best to first make a clear distinction between Mystery Visits and Direct Feedback. Mystery Visits are detailed anonymous reviews of the customer experience. As a result, they are used to assess the team’s ability to deliver on a wide range of measures. These measures are normally based on both operational standards and the order of service, and they are commonly aligned with staff training.
Direct Feedback sounds similar but is quite different – it’s about engaging with customers so features include a highly branded website, ‘customer recovery’ alerts where someone has had a poor experience, and ‘social advocacy’ to spread positive chatter about the best experiences.
For instance look at this example from The Jolly Boatman a "test site" the Mystery Dining Company uses to illustrate how a good direct feedback site works.
You not only capture an impression of staff, customer service, value for money, cleanliness and overall satisfaction, but by offering up a reward for leaving feedback (in this instance a prize draw) you can collect more customer details for your pub's contact list.
But just collecting names for a mailing list shouldn’t be the be all and end all of the process. The smart operator will take on board the feedback customers provide, whether positive or negative and act on that information. As well as acknowledging the importance of customer feedback you have the opportunity to publicly engage with your supporters and your critics. An open and honest response to complaints or constructive criticism lends credibility to your operation and a level of transparency that will translate into an increased trust in your brand.
This dialogue, between publican and customer, conducted in plain sight and in a professional manner is what the marketers call Social Advocacy. So keep an eye on your Facebook page, your pub website, your Twitter account and any other social media you are linked to and get in as quickly as you would if the person were complaining to you in person in your pub.
Mystery Dining Company don't quote any prices for their services as each campaign is tailor-made to suit the business they are dealing with, however, if you are serious about customer service and managing your reputation I would hazard a guess that any investment you make in either campaign would pay handsome dividends.