Feature Article - September 2005
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A Field Guide to Patrons

Tips for keeping customers happy



When you don't hear a peep one way or another from a certain customer, you may have a Walker in your midst.

"The Walker leaves a restaurant and then says the service was terrible, and they didn't like their meal, but they still leave a 15 percent tip and don't say anything at the time," Soisson explains. "They don't emotionally connect with their experience."

This may seem harmless, but if these people don't tell you about their experience, they'll be telling all their friends, who tell all their friends, and pretty soon, word-of-mouth leaves a bad taste.

Similarly, if these customers actually fully enjoy themselves, you won't know about it and therefore won't be able to build on that goodwill. Soisson urges to preempt the Walker's stealthy behavior by creating those connections for them.

"Extend a personal greeting to them," Soisson says. "Instead of 'Hello, goodbye, see you next time,' get to know their names," she says. Remember this poignant remark that Soisson refers to from Dale Carnegie: "The sweetest sound in any language is a person's own name."

In her position as recreation director at a Florida Keys resort, Soisson mandated that her employees spend 15 minutes of what she called "guest time" before beginning their regular duties. They would walk around the facility and introduce themselves to people, saying hello, telling the guest their name, and asking for the guests' names in return.

"Then, at least once during they day, they were required to check back with those people to see how they were doing," Soisson says. To any staff members who complained, she reminded them that their relationships could have profitable consequences.

"That could be the customer who tips you later or, when it comes to filling out a comment card, your name is in the forefront of their minds," she says.

Not all Walkers will want to be chatted up, though.

"Some Walkers like to be left alone, and if they're happy, then they're the customer who you don't need to spend much time or money on, and that's fine," Soisson says. The bottom line is you need to feel them out.

"You should be able to tell by how they respond to you," she says. "If they give you one-word answers, then they're probably the type to leave alone. Just give them good service."

Good service might mean something different than you once thought, and you might need to un-learn the old "gold standard," which instructed you to treat customers the way you'd like to be treated.

"The attitude is changing, and it's more of a platinum standard," Soisson explains. "Treat others the way they want to be treated."

GUIDE TO THE GUIDE

While creating labels can be helpful, it's important to remember that appearances can sometimes be deceiving and not to make snap judgments. Take the case of the Myrtle Beach Bike Week, which attracts more than 300,000 motorcycle enthusiasts.

"A new customer service staff member might snub their noses at these people when they walk in," Soisson says. "But these customers spend a lot of money; they're huge for our tourism industry."

So it's worth it to give everyone the benefit of the doubt before dismissing them.

"Get to know the difference between stereotyping and using your experience to understand how to respond to someone," Soisson advises. Arm yourself and your employees with knowledge, confidence and good examples, and you'll be ready for anything.

Now, go get 'em, tiger.