It’s not what you do…

The holiday season is a great time to take time to relax with family and enjoy new experiences.  From a work perspective it is a valuable time to recharge the batteries and refresh thinking to return to with a renewed sense of purpose and energy….but, personally, it is also a time to be tuned in to organisations and their SERVICEBRAND.

We visited a couple of towns on the coast to the west of Lisbon, Portugal (the photo is a seafront sculpture)and our experience in two different restaurants offers an interesting perspective on the relative importance of customer touchpoints (albeit anecdotal and lacking in valid data or metrics).

On our second evening in Carcavelos, we decided to go to a larger, brightly lit restaurant with upholstered chairs and a large display of seafood at the entrance.  Before we crossed the threshold, one of the waiters beckoned us to follow him and charged off to a table.  He gave us menus and then, before we had started to look, returned with a tray of various dishes and asked what we would like for starters, not whether we would like starters or not.  He had not asked if we wanted any drinks.  We were already feeling as though he wanted to sell as much as possible as quickly as possible.  When the food arrived it was tasty and well-cooked but because of the service, we left after the main course and had dessert at a different restaurant.  There was one point of the evening when the service became friendlier…when the bill was requested!

The following night we were undecided between two restaurants next to each other, finally guided by our fourteen year old son who said he thought that Gioconda’s (restgioconda@netcabo.pt) looked more “homely” – small, darker wood, more dimly lit.  We looked at the menu outside before stepping through the doorway to receive a warm smile and greeting.  We were offered a choice of tables and drinks were ordered and brought immediately.  While we were looking at the menu, the owner (? – he behaved like it) brought some bread, olives, cheese, prawns and fish pate.  He explained that he would just charge us for what we chose to eat – we ate it all!  The service was a lot more relaxed and attentive and, through our meal, as the restaurant became busier, it was clear that this was the same way all guests were treated.  The food was tasty and we received well informed guidance on choosing a bottle of wine from the region.  We were also asked how we were enjoying the meal in a genuine way and there was time for unobtrusive conversation.  Yes, we had dessert.

When I returned to work, I was thinking about these two very different experiences.  Choice of restaurant was made on the basis of physical appearance (from outside) so that is clearly very important.  However, the service experience was an even more interesting aspect.  In terms of process, this was very similar: approach, greeting, seated at table, starters, order meal and drinks, eat, dessert (or not!), pay and leave.  However, the style was markedly different: pushy salesman doing a job v welcoming host wishing to please.  At Gioconda’s there was an emotional connection and this drove many of our decisions.

Just how important a difference is this?  Well, at Giocanda’s we had dessert (spend +20%) and also returned on our last night in town because it was the restaurant we had enjoyed most (spend +120%).  How much would organisations pay for an approach that can drive a 140% improvement in sales?  A sale is a by-product of delivering an enjoyable customer experience and in a face to face service environment this is highly dependent on establishing an emotional connection at the point of service delivery……………It’s the way that you do it.

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