The 'Red Shoe Diaries' of Customer Service!
I own a rental property. In order to help keep all business with the property on the up-and-up, I hired a property manager. A big name, recognized brand outfit with a Property Management Department. And, the person who handles my business couldn't be better. She's on top of any issues, calmly negotiates any concerns the tenants have, and makes sure my property is always treated with respect. I would recommend her to anyone.
Then there's the house rules. On a monthly basis, the management company receives my tenant's lease payment, puts it in a sort of trust account, and --by agreement-- mails my bank a check on the 10th of the month. They don't have to do anything but cut a check and drop it in the mail along with a bank deposit slip, which I provide, in pre-addressed envelopes, which I provide, addressed to the bank that is located about one block from their office. Their job, for all practical purposes, is to receive my tenant's payment, sit on it for a few days, and mail my rental income to the bank. For 8% of my tenant's lease amount.
Now, here's the rub.
What if the 10th of the month happens to land on a Saturday when their bookkeeper is not on duty? Well, of course, they wait until Monday to issue the check. That would be the 12th of the month. The bank located a few blocks down the street then --giving all worthy kudos to the U.S. Postal Service-- receives the check the next day. That would be the 13th of the month. But, the bank doesn't process incoming checks until 2am-ish the following morning. That would be Tuesday, the 14th of the month.
Now, you might say, "It's only three days! Quit whining!" But, regardless of the fact that there is a bank loan somewhat tied to the receipt of the rental payment, this really isn't about the time my rental income has been floating in limbo. And, to be clear, even if the bank had received the deposit on Saturday, it still wouldn't have been available until Tuesday as opposed to Wednesday assuming the bank receives it on Tuesday. What this is about is the most basic of customer relations.
I get that rules are rules. And, the rule in this case it that my rental income having passed through the property management company is mailed on the 10th of the month. But, would it kill them, if the 10th happens to fall on a weekend, to drop the check in the mail on the preceding Friday? The bank is open on Saturday and will post my payment then. That strikes me as simply a nice thing to do for the customer. In this case; that would be me. And, doing nice things for the customer that is only a tick outside the so-called rules goes a long ways toward building solid customer relations and in turn, a loyalty to the business relationship. As it is; I could drop this management company in a heartbeat should something even a little better come along, and do so without the least amount of regret.
You can call it, "Happy Hour," if you like. I like to refer to it as the practice of buying customers --in fact, buying loyalty (more or less)-- in order to fill seats at the expense of net income. Simple math, really. If you cut your drink prices in half during certain hours, you also cut your profit in half. It stands to reason that you will do better with half the customers on premise at full price than a roomful at half price. Why? Once again; simple math. It takes a bartender twice as long to make twice as many drinks, therefore it either takes more staff to handle the increased load, or --and, here's the real rub-- more imposition on the time of a given number of bar staff which in turn takes away from time to interact with customers. And, if you don't think interaction with bar business customers is important... there is no point for you to read on.
Happy hour is a term that actually got its start far from the bar business. During World War One, sailors were given a certain amount of "off time" for non-military activities. Usually some sports activity such as a game of hoops or even boxing matches, but "down-time" --"happy hour" if you will-- none-the-less. Along the way, the term was picked up by the beverage side of the food & beverage industry as a designate for a time to boost morale. Of course, in time it has come to mean getting a snoot full of booze typically for half the price. A concept, in and of itself, that has always bewildered me.
The fact that the common, "two-for-one," or, "half price," happy hour perks makes no sense to me, in addition to the simple economics, is that a bar's patrons get drunk faster therefore become obnoxious and disruptive in less time, thereby driving away high expendable income patrons. And, even if they avoid have so many they get tipsy, they're out the door before moving into the day part where drinks revert to full price. I know folks (me included, actually) who make it a point to stop by a local watering hole, "after Happy Hour ends," just to avoid the cheap drunks! And, you don't think cheap drunks are the byproduct of a 2-for-1 happy hour?? Currently, 23 states have banned restaurants and bars from selling "alcoholic beverages during a fixed period of time for a fixed price." 'Must be a reason.
Some years ago when I was charged with training staff and managing the customer relations for a restaurant/micro-brewery which featured two identical bars, the investors wanted to build a following with the tried-and-true, "two-for-one." happy hour. I resisted and convinced them to instead wrap their heads around a happy hour that offered, "call cocktails for the price of a well drink," We accomplished two things... Sure, there was the difference between the cost of pouring a premium vs. well whiskey, though even that paled in lost revenue compared to the half price concept. But, more than that; we trained the patrons to develop a taste for the higher shelf --therefore higher priced-- products. "It's hard to go back to Salisbury Steak once you've acquired a taste for Chateaubriand!" It was a win-win situation.
One of the best restaurant/bar combos in this in this town of roughly 110,000 metro residents features a bar that is small, sporting only four extremely uncomfortable, hardwood topped bar stools of incorrect height for the level of the bar, a bar which supports a lowly two available barstools. Why only two? Because the other two are taken up by a place for glass return, a plastic bin of neatly wrapped set-ups, and other assorted server related materials and section assignment paperwork.
The servers are all dressed in bland logoed polo shirts and their own choice of bottom apparel and footwear. They tend to make it a point to avoid eye contact with anyone other than the tables of people of whom they are directly charged with providing service. Their demeanors remind me of an old science fiction film I once saw where a small town was populated with human-emulating robots, the creators of which never got around to adding facial muscle manipulation devices.
The young bartender is pretty much the same story. She manages successfully to avoid any semblance of meaningful conversation. She is, however, quite adept at leaving behind the impression that customers are, indeed, nothing more than a necessary inconvenience. Fortunately, she has her texting and conjured up reasons for making numerous trips to the main bar for incidental this-and-that to turn to, effectively giving her cause to avoid even the most rudimentary of feigned pleasantries.
In defense of the staff, I have to put the onus on management. If employees are left to assume that they are on the clock, not to provide the customer with a overall pleasant, "hospitable" experience, but rather to engage in the mundane activity of simply delivering food and beverage, they then have no impetus to interact in a positive way with the clientele. Ask employees in the food & beverage service industry why they are there and nine out of ten will tell you, "to make money." I know. I have asked. The notion that they are charged with providing a pleasant experience for the customer, unfortunately, seldom crosses their mind without benefit of an enthusiastic and involved coach. It's not all their fault.
I'm not so much a fan of Wal-Mart as I am of Sam Walton. To my way of thinking, Sam Walton nailed it when he said, "We all have but one boss... The customer. He or she has the ability to put everyone from the Chairman on down out of a job by simply not coming into our stores."
I've said it before but it bears repeating... How anyone working in the hospitality industry can know so little of hospitality baffles me beyond belief. It almost seems as though the concept is less understood in the industry than in others, but perhaps it is just that I have higher expectations for a sense of hospitality in the hospitality industry, I don't know. Still, the fact remains, that little is ever done by management to get the point across that everyone who walks in the door... of any business, not just a restaurant or hotel... is responsible for a portion of each and every employee's salary.
Waitpersons oftentimes seem to think they are invisible to all but the people at their assigned booth/table/section. When I stopped recently at a major brand hotel lounge to enjoy a glass of wine and engage in the usual people watching, I found amused frustration in tallying the number of staff members not directly charged with my service that managed to avoid eye contact with me, to say nothing of extending a warm welcoming comment or at least a friendly smile.
Back in my ad agency days I had developed a presentation that drew the comparison between marketing strategy and a military operation. The analogy is clear enough; In advertising you don't "create" business, you merely "capture" a portion of that which is out there. I found the other day when I was "ranting" to a small group in, of all places, a sports bar, there is a workable analogy for customer service in the food & beverage business as well. Another comparison... not being a particular sports fan... that came to mind "on the fly."
It holds true, I suddenly realized, that a restaurant or bar can't just hire good people and expect it to work out any more than an NFL team can hire a roster of top players only to send them onto the field as individuals expecting a winning season. It's the coach that puts the individual talents together into a "winning" machine! Why would this be any different for a F&B manager? Or, a manager in any industry for that matter. Yet, I continually hear stories about how a manager does indeed hold weekly (or, less often) staff meetings, only to use the time to do no more than tell the staff about the latest drink special or new menu item.
A good manager needs to "pump up" his crew in the same way a coach prepares his or her players for the big game. "But, running an F&B operation isn't a competition," you say. Sure it is. Every day your place is open you're competing against the joint down the street.
Our friend, Gordy Marshall, is showing a little of the reason he has been the Moody Blues second drummer for so many years... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6NBrr5-ovs&feature=player_embedded#
Do you ever have one of those days when you simply can't believe an employee, waitperson, bartender, or anyone else on the job for that matter, displayed a total lack of understanding as to why they even bothered to show up for work today? Tell us your story...