Improving the Customer Experience Starts with Employee Training

DiscoverLink Founder Jeff Tenut, and two of our clients, Patrick Yearout of Ivar’s and Bryan Frame of Weinerschnitzel, were recently featured in an article published in the October 2015 issue of QSR Magazine.  “Making a Lasting Impression” discusses the role of the human factor in setting limited-service brands apart.  Following is an excerpt from the article:

Making a Lasting Impression

Improving the customer experience starts with employee training and outreach.

By Maggie Hennessy

QSR articleAlthough the limited-service industry was built on the pillars of convenience and speed, the human factor is what sets brands apart. The front line of general managers, cashiers, and servers is where the customer’s experience begins and ends, and operators say that it can mean the difference between a repeat or one-time visit.

“The basic need people have when they come to us is for food,” says Patrick Yearout, director of recruiting and training at Sea-ttle-based Ivar’s Seafood Restaurants, which includes the quick serve Ivar’s Seafood Bar. “But they could fill that physical need by heating up a microwave burrito from the freezer. So why do people get dressed, get in their car, and drive several miles to pay good money at Ivar’s or any other restaurant? Because they want to feel pampered, special, and like they belong.”

Elements of great customer service can be taught, but the process begins by hiring the right people, says Jeff Tenut, cofounder and vice president of solution design for e-learning company DiscoverLink. “You want employees to be themselves first and foremost, which backs up to hiring,” he says.

Tenut says that looking for cues like eye contact and inquisitiveness during the interview process helps give a sense of how that candidate might interact with guests on the floor. But it also helps to look at a person’s extracurricular activities.

“We often recommend hiring people who are studying theater in school or people who play sports—highly active team sports in particular, like cheerleading,” Tenut says. “They’re used to working with other people and interacting quite often, and they tend to rally well together and keep the energy up.”

Ivar’s places huge emphasis on the interview process to pick out those who will succeed in a demanding environment. (Yearout thinks not doing so is partly to blame for the industry’s high turnover numbers.) Managers ask open-ended, neutral questions—such as candidates’ previous position, boss, and working environment—gauging for positive responses.

Those positive responses connote a positive personality, and as long as applicants have the right personality and drive to succeed, operators can train for technical skills, Yearout says.

Reading customers’ signs

Once onboard, making genuine personal connections can be challenging in an environment that values speed and convenience first. But even small cues that facilitate the process for customers can leave an impact, operators say.

“Too often, quick-serve employees focus solely on the steps of service because that’s how they’re taught,” Tenut says.

Even assigning names rather than numbers to orders can make a harried lunch rush feel more personal. California–based Wienerschnitzel recently redesigned its POS system to require a name for every order taken, which has helped cashiers remember guests’ names. The chain also trains cashiers to hand customers their food rather than leaving it on the counter.

“Even though we’re pushing people through quickly, if they hear, ‘Mary, your order’s ready,’ and they’re handed their food with a smile, that creates a positive response,” says Bryan Frame, training program developer for Wienerschnitzel’s parent company, Galardi Group.

Read the full article in the October 2015 issue of QSR Magazine.