Walk a Meal in Customers' Shoes

Kevin Higar, Author, Foodservice Marketing Consultant

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If you’re like me, by now most 2013 New Year’s resolutions are hanging on for dear life. But before you just throw what’s left in the emotional “try again next year” trash bin, there is one business commitment I would encourage you to implement, whether or not it’s on your list. It’s the idea of process execution.

I just spent several days in Seattle visiting number of emerging restaurants, stealthily talking to many of their customers. One common element that came up in almost every conversation was that customers we revisiting a specific restaurant because it seamlessly fit into their daily routine. These restaurants, at least from their customers’ perspectives, had achieved what I call lifestyle integration.

In my book “Always Let The Chicken Lead,” I discuss the seven core attributes all winning restaurants possess. One of these is the ability to “seething from the customer’s perspective.”Most customers will tell you that a restaurant’s ability to move them through a particular meal in a manner that aligns with their specific demands for that dining occasion is critical. To do this successfully, foodservice organizations must literally walk in their customers’ shoes, identifying all customer/concept intersections and determining if current processes surrounding these “touch points” are efficient. That means foodservice concepts stand a much better chance of becoming part of their customers’ daily routine if they successfully implement process execution.

In a 2012 Technomic Generational Trend report, only 39% of millennials, 27% of Generation Xers and 28% of boomers agreed with the statement, “I believe I’ll have more time to cook in the future.” Translation: Most folks—your customers—are busy. If you’re an operator in the c-store segment, that means being able to help them source a meal solution quickly and get on with the other 100 things they need to accomplish in the next 15 minutes could be a recipe for success.(Did you like that cooking tie-in?)

Sudden Depth

Curious how to accomplish this? Do a Google search for Pal’s Sudden Service. This small QSR chain has been awarded the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige NationalQuality Award for its enduring commitment to almost flawless process execution.

Check out the photo of this unassuming drive-thru concept (above), and don’t be fooled by the giant hot dog and hamburger architecture. Pal’s has serious game! From the time a customer’s car reaches the drive-thru window to the time that person leaves with food is 20 seconds or less! Still not impressed? Pal’s makes only one mistake or fewer every 2,000 orders! How does it do this? In the company’s own words: “For everything organizational and operational, Pal’s has a process. Almost nothing, from new product introduction to hiring decisions to the design of support processes and work systems, is done without a thorough understanding of likely impact on customer satisfaction.”That, my friends, is a mantra that truly exemplifies “seeing things from your customer’s perspective” and a total commitment to process execution.

So if you want to make sure your foodservice operation not only offers great tasting, high-quality foods and beverages, but also delivers these items in a lifestyle-integration-friendly manner, start thinking in terms of processes. Visit units where no one knows you or, if that’s impossible, have someone trusted do it. Where do your customers’ visits intersect with foodservice operations (the touch points)? See things through their eyes, and then incorporate consistently repeatable processes because they make your customers’ experiences more pleasant(rather than because it makes your job easier).

Finally, while I encourage you to be relentless regarding process execution, be a little more lenient in terms of personal resolutions. I pledged this year to reduce the amount of mayhem and foolishness that aggravates my wife. Yet as I type this column, in my kitchen sits an unrinsed cereal bowl with just the slightest hint of Lucky Charms and milk in the bottom. I like to think that’s one broken resolution that makes me a relationship keeper.

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