There’s a tiny cafe downtown that’s a favorite lunch spot for state workers and a few urban dwellers.  One day, while waiting for my order during a recent lunch time stop, I caught a glimpse of a few “glitches” that I would bet any amount of money, have not been seen by the cafe owner.  Small hygienic issues that I’m certain the owner is not aware of because he’s in the back of the house making Paninis, and doesn’t have the customer’s view of his establishment.

The solution is simple, become a customer in your own establishment and experience your business from the customer point of view.   If you normally enter your business through the back door, come in through the front door a few times a week.  Stand or sit where your customers usually stand, and look around the place.   If there’s a waiting area, sit on the furniture and let your eyes wander like those of a bored customer.  Start at the corners of the floor, notice the base boards, the furniture legs, is there a collection of insect corpses in the window seals?  Check for cobwebs along the walls and light fixtures, dust layers, splash stains, and dead bugs in the light covers.  Do customers see a dirty work area when they’re at counter waiting to pay? Would a woman be comfortable putting her new Kate Spade handbag on your counter tops?   Failure to notice and correct these small things can and will drive away customers.

I know this is all incredibly basic information, but I see these “customer view” problems every day, and I’m not alone. These small misses cost American small businesses millions in lost revenue and will undoubtedly ruin a hard earned reputation.  Please don’t let that happen to you.

If you need help seeing through the eyes of your customers, email me @ www.rivercitysocial@sbcglobal.net.

Did you see the news about Red Lobster?  Apparently sales are low even with the economy showing recent signs of improvement.  A company representative said the reason for the restaurant’s saggy numbers is the saggy pocket books of middle-income consumers.   I agree with Mr. Company Rep to a certain degree – many of us middle income folk do indeed have saggy wallets, but we’re still busy and many of us still hate to cook.   So I will go out on a limb here and say that the real reason Red Lobster has saggy numbers is that funny habit us middle-income folk tend to have about not being willing to spend our hard earned clams on sloppy food, and sucky service.  What??? Did she really say that!  Yes, I did, and I’ll tell you why.   Red Lobster is like many companies that have the social media machine in place, but they miss that fact that social media is more than a virtual bulletin board for posting the catch of the day.  It’s a place for 2 way communication and customer engagement; it’s a source for obtaining real time feedback on what a customer enjoyed about their experience in an establishment and what they didn’t.  Unfortunately, approximately 70% of businesses don’t respond to customer feedback on social media (Factbrowser). Based upon my experience with the Lobster, I’m willing to guess that they just might be among that number.   Being a (former) avid fan of the Lobster, I couldn’t help but Yelp about the bad food and stinky service received by my family and me during our last 2 visits.  I was not the only person Yelping about a disappointing dinner experience at the Lobster.  There were other area folk pleading for the Lobster’s wrongs to be made right so we could all gather at the captain’s table with a watered down margarita in one hand and some hot cheddar bay biscuits in the other.   Most of us Yelpers took the time to provide detailed explanations in support of our low star ratings, because most people don’t enjoy dishing out poor reviews.  I even used the Lobster’s corporate feedback box to communicate with them directly and point them to the growing number of unhappy Yelpers in my area.  The Lobster responded by asking for my receipt number and the name of my server.  At that point I knew that I had eaten my last cheddar bay biscuit, because I am not about getting anyone in trouble especially when one person is not the problem.   One look at the Yelp reviews and the problem becomes obvious; poor quality food, poor communication between the front and back staff and a lack of server training – in short, bad management.

So again, I seriously doubt that the Lobster is drowning because of America’s broke middle incomers, or the poor single mothers, or the over availability of low priced genetically modified beef product, or the pot smoking socialist;  the problem is largely right there in the lobster pot.  Here’s an interesting number to drive this puppy home; according to the UK Guardian, restaurants with 3.5 stars on Yelp are 63 percent more likely to be full then those with just 3 stars – 63 percent!  So if your establishment has a few too many empty tables, you may want to check your stars!Image