Customer Service Tips from Danny Meyer
If you've eaten in Manhattan very often you've probably enjoyed one of Danny Meyer's restaurants. From the comfortable and chic Union Square Cafe to the famous Gramercy Tavern, Meyer's restaurants give you about a dozen places to enjoy dining out. This man and his staff have earned 25 James Beard Awards across all his restaurants.
Meyers wrote a book back in 2006 that was updated in 2009 – it might be older but it's rich with lessons for any entrepreneur about customer service and hiring. The book, Setting The Table – The Transformative Power of Hospitality in Business, gives specific actions that have helped Meyers build his extremely successful and well known group of restaurants in what is admittedly a very demanding industry.
Meyer welcomes both celebrities and every day people to his tables, and has learned that it doesn’t pay to slight the unknown for the known. And that is the first lesson we can take from Meyer. He says that while it is tempting to spend your time handling one big-name customer, in the long term it’s far more important to focus just as much on all the other customers who come in that day. As Meyer says, “They are the ones who keep the lights on.”
Here are some other ways that Meyer and his staff work to delight their customers.
- Work every day as if the word of mouth spread by each and every customer today will determine how busy you will be tomorrow.
- Hire staff who are predisposed to derive pleasure from delivering pleasure to customers. Long after your customer has forgotten whether they like or dislike what they bought from you, they will remember how you made them feel.
- Give customers hope. Go out of your way to get them what they want that you are out off. Meyer hired a full time staff person to call people and remind them of reservations. The minute she finds that a reservation will not be met, she goes to the wait list and calls someone who thought they would not get in. Word gets around that Meyer’s staff really cares that people get what they want – which keeps his restaurants filled to capacity at nearly every meal. Perhaps you could provide better follow-up for special orders, or create a wait list and be sure to call when a requested item comes in. It is not extreme customer service to tell your customers to “check back in a few weeks.”
- Make customers who are not big-name customers feel as if they are. What can you do for each and every customer to delight that person that day? How can you make each person feel special?
- Look at your business as a series of problems to be solved. Each customer may present you with a problem, work to solve it. As an example, Meyer tells the story of a woman who showed up to eat at one of his restaurants for the first time. She was upset, late for her reservation, and had left both her cell phone and her wallet in her taxi. Meyer’s staff solved her problems one at a time, first telling her not to worry about paying for her lunch. Then, they asked for her cell phone’s number, and assigned someone to call it over and over again, until the taxi driver picked it up to answer. The staffer met the taxi across town, came back, and had both the cell phone and the wallet before the lady’s lunch was due to be paid for. Meyer’s point is that the good public relations his business earned far outweighed the cost of solving his customer’s problem. Compassion has its place in business.
- Customers are not always right, but they do deserve the right to always be heard. Meyer is clear that he puts staff before customers, but on the other hand he expects extreme customer service from each and every one.
Meyers offers up these additional tips for extraordinary customer service.
- Never assume you know what a customer wants. Ask!
- Turn mistakes into an advantage. Fix what is wrong, even if it isn’t your fault. Practice generosity in business, for it will come back to you many times.
- Ask your customers questions. They will take as much interest in your business as you take in theirs.
- Don’t play favorites – exceed everyone’s expectations.
- Put staff first, and help them feel good about coming to work each day.
If you want a fascinating read about the New York restaurant scene along with solid advice for building a relationship-based business, I suggest you buy this book and add it to your reading list. In the meanwhile, what one thing can you do to boost your staff and your customer service?