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  • SERVICE: The 'psychic benefits' of creative customer service

    Tags: Service

The other day I was serving a husband and wife, and in the innocuous routine of making small talk, I learned that they were celebrating. Apparently the wife had just had an appointment with a doctor, and the results of a test she had were "negative," which was good in this case. They were exhilarated, so at the end of their meal I presented them with our standard house "freebie" for special occasions: a scoop of ice cream with a birthday candle. They were surprised and delighted.

In his The Power of Intention seminars, Dr. Wade Dyer talks about the importance of giving "feel goods," which is what I provided that couple. The mere presentation of that celebratory ice cream and candle is our restaurant's way of stamping significance on events that are important to our guests. Though a simple act, it makes a connection with customers and establishes

Paul C. Paz

long-term personal and professional relationships.

In a recent Washington Post interview, Boston College sociologist and consumerism expert Juliet Schor said, "... We'll pay more for the psychic benefits. It's why people buy upscale Starbucks coffee when they could find cheaper no-name coffee elsewhere."

Do you instruct your staff members to dole out "feel goods" when appropriate? If you have a full-service restaurant, there are numerous ways to do this: a free beverage, dessert, side item, T-shirt or ball cap. If most of your business is delivery, present a free order of breadsticks or a 2-liter soda now and again to loyal customers. Use your POS system to learn who orders most frequently, and then ask your drivers for suggestions on freebies. If it's a family with young children, perhaps the free soda or some pieces of bubble gum would work. If it's an older couple, send a long a free salad; it'll be well received and generate some product trial.

If you really want to go the extra mile, provide your drivers with dog biscuits for customers who have pooches. To pet owners, the four-legged are family members, too.

Make it memorable

Sure, anyone can throw freebies around, but what matters most is how they're given and received. A freebie that arrives for no apparent reason is appreciated, but there's no connection made with the customer. The patron thinks, "Hmm, that's nice," and moves on because he's not sure why he got the gift. In fact, he may think, "I'll bet they do this for everyone," which won't make him feel particularly special.

But when a delivery driver drops off a freebie and says, "Enjoy these on the house. We just want to thank you for being such loyal customers," a lasting impression is made. Subconsciously, the message changes from, "Take this freebie so you'll buy from us again," to "They really do appreciate my business."

The free ice cream worked the same way. That couple left the restaurant knowing that we cared enough about them to sweeten their celebration, and that 50-cent gift served as a permanent punctuation mark on their memorable occasion.

Some time back, I was waiting on a table of two, and I noticed one of them was weeping. Figuring this lady could use a little cheering up, I brought her a scoop of ice cream with the lit candle at the end of her meal. I told her that whatever was troubling her would pass and the future will have brighter days.

Do you think she'll remember that?

I know she did. She's now a regular customer who returns often and brings additional friends and family.

Ask yourself now, How could I deepen my customer service by adding some psychic benefits?

Kindness is an easy place to start. It costs nothing at all, yet its effect can be so profound. Humans crave kind treatment, and giving it is a "feel good," a "psychic benefit" that will boost your business in the long run.

Problem is, fewer and fewer people and businesses practice the basics of kindness. For example, I recently read about restaurants where customers use a peculiar system of signs and flags to notify their servers they're needed. At one, you flip a card which has a message on the back to prompt the server's attention, and at another, you actually raise a flag.

I know this is probably efficient, but what happened to servers making eye contact with guests and seeking opportunities to offer service proactively? When you wait for your guests to raise their flags, are you making the effort to create a relationship, or merely reacting to their requests?

Pizzerias that deliver great service are in the business of anticipation, not reaction.

Here's some suggested reading for more ideas on anticipatory service:

1. Bob Brown's "4-Elements of Extraordinary Service," which centers on service that's unexpected, unnecessary, unwarranted and undeserved (bobbrownss.com).

2. Bernard Martinage's book, "The Professional Service Guide" (restaurantprofessional.com). A line from this book is particularly telling: "The more casual the dining room, the greater the opportunity to exceed guests' expectations by performing correct service."

It doesn't get any more casual than the pizza business does it?

Unleash your creativity in 2005 and teach it to your staff.

In the meantime, Make It Fun ... Make It Easy ... Make Some Money!

Read other Paul Paz commentaries ...
* SERVICE: Diffuse the stress bomb before it blows
* SERVICE: The goal of customer service is to bring 'em back
* SERVICE: The gift of gab
* SERVICE: Does your pizzeria staff know the basic steps of service?
* SERVICE: Wise pizza operators know catering to kids isn't child's play
* SERVICE: We're only as good as our last performance
* SERVICE: Separation anxiety
* SERVICE: 'Bad-apple' trainers will never bear good fruit
* SERVICE: Super Bowl, Valentine's and Mardi Gras present many promotional opportunities
* SERVICE: Boost beverage sales with these simple table-side tactics.
* SERVICE: Whether the holidays are happy depends on your attitude
* SERVICE: It takes a desire to please the customer to deliver exceptional service
* SERVICE: Schedule flexibility is a benefit -- not an entitlement -- of this industry
* SERVICE: Promote the pizza industry as a career choice
* SERVICE: Cheaters never prosper, especially in restaurants
* SERVICE: Say hello or they'll say goodbye
* SERVICE: Treat coworkers as courteously as customers
* SERVICE: What's There to Smile About?

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