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What your business can learn from a restaurant.

When I found myself repeatedly going out of my way to return to a restaurant in Chicago which has a precarious location, I began to ask myself: “What are they doing different?” This also then begged the question, are there lessons to be learned that can be applied in other business settings? Once I discovered the answer to the first question, the answer to the second was a resounding absolutely!

The answer to the first question isn’t all that complicated either. In fact, it may seem like common sense, yet many businesses fail to get these things right over and over. As the saying goes “common sense isn’t always common practice.”

1. Employees LOVE working there!

This was the first observable behavior I noticed and why I loved coming back. This isn’t just a ‘customer is always right’ attitude or delivering service with a smile. There is something palatable within the staff at this particular restaurant that you can tell everyone is having a great time! Not only do I notice it, but everyone I’ve ever taken there has noticed it. The employees are genuinely having a great time, so much so that it doesn’t seem like they’re really working. This goes beyond employee engagement, this isn’t just being engaged from nine to five, but to be trite, loving what you do so much that it doesn’t seem like work. If your employees are having such a great time, it’ll make your customer’s experience that much more enjoyable as well.

Do your employees love doing what they do? Crain’s Chicago recently published their 2015 Top 10 Best Places To Work in Chicago. What’s great is that I know people who work at some of those companies, and they really do love working for them. There are many factors that go into this, and it’s not an easy formula to solve. But if you’re a business leader, what things can you do to make sure your employees love working for your company?

2. Empowerment

Once I was sure I had solved for the first element, I had to ask the staff what their thoughts were. One night after dinner I asked a few of the service staff in the restaurant what they thought was their key to success. Their answer, empowerment. Every staff member in the restaurant, from the host to the servers, bartenders, and cooks are all empowered to do what is necessary to make the customer happy. By empowerment, I mean no red tape and no approval matrices to navigate to get something done, real, true, 100% empowerment.

How empowered are your employees? This is another one of those common sense elements, but in my experience few businesses really get this right. I’ve worked in some organizations that have so many layers of approval that the thought of doing something to elevate the customer experience is so daunting, employees give up before they even finish thinking of the solution. I’ve also worked in a business that made a conscious effort to not only hold all of its employees accountable for the success of the business, but to also empower them to do what was necessary to ensure the customer was satisfied (Note: The two components mentioned must go hand in hand to really work). The correlation to this shift and the rapid increase in customer satisfaction at this company was unmistakable. So if you’re a business leader, what are you doing to ensure your employees are empowered to make the customer experience the best possible?

3. Customers not only want to go back, they drag their friends and colleagues there.

Perhaps you’ve heard of NPS (Net Promoter Score), or more commonly referred to as Customer Satisfaction. Sure, that’s a nice measure. Your customers are asked if they would recommend your product or service to a friend or colleague. But what I mean goes beyond that. I literally drag new people to this restaurant on a regular basis. I also regularly post about how much I enjoy this restaurant on social media. This in turn has created a whole new fan base for this restaurant. I don’t just agree that I would recommend this business, but I actually do and literally walk people in their door.

Would your customers walk their friends and colleagues into your front door, be it metaphorical or physical? It’s one thing for a business to get referrals, but when the customer is actively advocating for the business they are referring someone to, it makes all the difference in winning the sale. (On a separate note, I’d venture to guess that the 10 companies listed in the Crain’s article above have high repeat and referral business as well.) As a business leader, what are you doing to ensure your customers are an active advocate for your business?

As I said before, this list may seem like a lot of common sense. But I’ll bet if you really get down to the bottom of answering these questions, the success of your business lies in their truthful answers. This list also doesn’t explicitly address the more practical part of your business, the product or service you are selling. It is however implied in number three, as I doubt you’d have customers advocating for you if you didn’t also have a quality product or service. Conversely (and in no way do I mean to minimize the amazing work that my favorite chef does), Chicago is a pretty outstanding city when it comes to food options. I could find a plethora of establishments who serve a great meal. But not only at my favorite restaurant do I get a great meal, they also love what they do, are empowered to make sure I’m happy, and I in turn bring my friends back.

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