Here’s Where I Write Too Much Because Customer Service is Surprisingly Interesting
Today I thought I’d pass along some information from an article I found interesting while I was surfing the web instead of being productive. It’s an interview with Edward Wimmer, co-owner of the company Road ID, and has nothing to do with the food service industry. At least not in any direct manner. Wimmer does discuss a lot of interesting information about customer service—something his company’s been lauded for—however, and these are lessons that apply to any business, the restaurant one included.
Road ID, a company that makes personal and medical identification bracelets for runners, cyclists, and other outdoor enthusiasts, has maintained 50% year-over-year growth for nine years. They’ve gone from a company of three—the Wimmers—to a business running commercials on national television (maybe you’ve seen them on NBC Sports during this year’s Tour de France; they all feature Bob Roll, and they’re ridiculous). Yet, despite all this growth, they’ve maintained the feel of a personal company run by real people, and their customer service remains a strength. When a poster on bikeforum.net complained about the company, the message board got all up in arms, with hundreds of the brand’s customers posting replies about the great, wonderful, positive customer service experiences they’d had. The critical guy had it wrong, they said. That’s the kind of loyalty every business would love to inspire, I think. Customers who’d have your back in a fight, so to speak.
Now, I’m not going to rehash the entire interview for you, as it’s not about food service and you can all read, but there’re a couple points of interest for our purposes that I’d like to highlight:
Treat Your Customers Like People, Not Dollar Signs
Wimmer says something during this interview that seems obvious to me as a consumer, but maybe less so if I’m in an entrepreneurial mood. The interview asks about Road ID’s policy of replacing IDs with mistakes—mistakes made by customers that could easily be caught in the ordering process and are no fault of the company—for free, or at most, a nominal fee. Though the company loses money on these replacements (which, again, are the customer’s fault), but Wimmer says “the key isthat every customer doesn’t have to generate a positive ROI. If we generate a positive ROI on most of our customers, the bottom line takes care of itself. When you aren’t trying to squeeze every nickel out of every transaction, it’s easy to do the right thing for an individual customer.” He has a point, too. Thinking about what the customer wants, instead of his company’s more economic desires, is what’s created the rabid fan base that leapt to Road ID’s defense on bikeforum.net, after all.
The connection to food service here should be obvious. It’s easy to be annoyed when a picky company wants special treatment: something that’s not on the menu, food taken back for some reason or another, etc. Often, this is the fault of the customer, who hasn’t ordered what he or she has meant to or something. There’s a benefit to bending over backwards to make these individuals happy, however; doing so engenders loyalty in a way that good food and glossy ads can’t. You’re attending to a customer personally, making it likely that they’ll return. If they do the online review site thing, they’ll probably speak positively about your hospitality. They might even tell friends. Or have your back in a fight, or something.
Point is, it’s not all about the dollars and cents. Or rather, it is, but not in the immediate sense. Making your customer happy, more often than not, pays off in the long term, even if it’s a hassle. Think about what you’d want if you were eating out somewhere, and treat them as if they’re you. They’ll thank you for it.
Maintain a Personal, Friendly Image
Finally—and I apologize for this extra-long post today—we get to the second point I want to cover. The interviewer asks Mr. Wimmer about his company’s attempts to remain homey and family-oriented, even as it grows into a large corporation. The owner says it’s simple, to him. Most companies try hard to hide their small sizes when they’re starting up, but Road ID, even as it becomes large, wants to remind consumers that it’s family run and family owned, by real people. If you call them for customer service, you get real people. The emails they send customers come from EdwardW@…, not some no-reply or corporate sounding title.
Though this might not relate directly to your restaurant or cafeteria business, the lesson’s invaluable: don’t be afraid to be small and personal. In a global, commercial world, everyone wants to seem bigger than they are, glossier, more professional and corporate. But customers still like to have a personal experience. In the restaurant industry, especially, it’s nice to know the food you’re eating was made by an actual person, or that the restaurant is owned by someone with a family and a passion for food. Why else are shows like Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Man vs. Food, where you get to watch these small business owners make the food they’re so passionate about, so popular? Passion and a personal touch are worth spending money for.
Thanks for putting up with me for so long today; there was a lot on my mind! Check back later in the week for more, and until then, contact us here.