The love we give away is the only love we keep.
1. The Customer is King. The customer is the reason we exist. We must always train our associates to not argue with the customers. I was in Burbank today when I was writing part of this book’s previous chapters when I observed some customers and employee interactions, as I typically do to always help with training and CRM. I am always running around the restaurants and when I’m not watching the servers and making sure the food is hot and fresh I’m always making sure we give customers the best service humanly possible. This is very important to me personally because over the yard I feel as though many of these customers are like family to us, which is equally true of many of the associates.
I was watching as one customer walked up to our counter and asked one of our cashiers why he did not receive his Chicken Tarna plate. The cashier began to argue with him in front of everyone, telling him that he did receive his food and that chicken Tarna is not what they had ordered. Then she checked the receipt and he indeed had a Tarna plate that he had not received. She gave it to him, but the problem was she rudely refused service to him when he first asked. Sometimes cashiers will do this in front of the owner(s) because it saves face, and they want to look like they didn’t make a mistake. You must train them that while mistakes do happen, our Number One priority must always be to keep the customer happy. I told her as much and spoke to her afterwards about it. Never discipline or be upset with an employee in front of other employees and especially not in front of customers. Always train them in a calm voice and only after the customer leaves. This is good for morale. These kinds of mistakes will happen, and the owners must never lose their cool.
2. Any advertising material for the food must reflect reality. Think of the burger commercials we always see on TV and in print. The burger looks perfect with plump bread, crisp lettuce and tomatoes, and a huge beef patty topped with perfectly crisp onion rings and bacon. Is this how fast food burgers actually come? Of course not. They are soft, soggy bread patties with a miserable beef piece squished between imperfect produce. The bacon is usually too dry and doesn’t look anything like the fresh, fizzling crisp they show you. The beef is never sizzling hot like in the commercials but is actually lukewarm, like they threw it in the microwave for 45 seconds before throwing it on your face. Is this false advertising? Yes it is, and most of the fast food restaurants, especially the big name national brands, are all doing it.
In one sense, as a marketing and advertising person I can relate to what they’re doing. I understand that food is especially hard to get on video without the special effects magic to make it look great (if you disagree with me please attempt this for yourself see for yourself). It once took us 4.5 hours in the hot sun in Burbank to get one shot, just one shot of a crisp whole chicken that was acceptable for commercial advertising use. During the process of that photo shoot we took over 200 pictures. We ended up using just one. Making a carcass look sexy is extremely difficult and involves a long process. You need a professional food photographer as well as a food stylist that specializes in spraying mist to make produce look fresh, designing the food by cutting and slicing produce, and placing the food in a perfect angle.
It’s all extremely hard work. You need extra doses of patience because often in post-production we have to take weeks photoshopping the images to perfection, then we take weeks adding fonts and graphics, and finally colors and background. I’ve been working on our newest iteration of the catering menu since January of 2014, when we first took pictures of the new Mediterranean Feast I created specifically for that menu and as a result of customer feedback. As we approach October, that menu has still not been printed. It has been worked on and improved over 18 times, with new and bolder colors added, new graphics, new items, price changes … etc. Sometimes it seems like forever. But just like a deliciously baked cake, once it’s ready it will taste great. Rush it even for a week and you’ll easily make a mistake. When you’re printing 50,000 menus, you can’t make a mistake. Taking our time is of the essence to what we do in the art of marketing and graphics.
But I still believe these commercials they’re now doing everywhere violate many policies with regards to truth in advertising. At Zankou, we still used the exact same products we sell to our customers in all the print and online marketing materials. We just make sure it looks fresh, change the angles and the cameras along with the lighting, and make any necessary changes as we go along. As you work on these projects you tend to get better and better at them, knowing what to expect. But what we never did is use a different chicken than the one we sell, different produce, or any other product in these marketing materials. Is that beef patty they show you during the Super Bowl ads what we really get when we order from some of these fast food places? Are those proportions that we see even close to being accurate? No they are not, and I believe this is a fallacy and one reason why we are losing trust in many people when it comes to families eating out and perceptions of the public with regarding to restaurant advertising. People have become overly skeptical because so many business unscrupulously advertise to them what they’ll never get. Restaurants should use truth in advertising. Here are some guidelines for you to follow in your advertising and marketing. I would not preach this if I did not try to follow it myself every day. Notice I said “try” because I have failed myself many times, but that does not lower the moral and ethical standard we must all achieve to reach. Some further tips:
a) Use the actual products you sell in all print and video commercials. Don’t use plastic pieces, different or higher grade meats, or more expensive fruits or vegetables than what you already serve. People that are selling tequila or whiskey don’t have to follow this rule. They often use high quality crystals in place of ice cubes on those billboard shots, in addition to an array of expensive photoshop tools. That’s OK for them because they’re just selling a cold drink. For us it’s different. The customer expects to eatexactlywhat they see. How do I know that? By asking them and talking to thousands of them over the last 25 years.
b) The use of Photoshop and picture gradation tools is OK, so long as you are not changing the product In other words don’t make the beef patty inside the burger 3 x larger than it is in real life.
c) Don’t show food items together when that’s not how they come. For example don’t show a dish with mashed potatoes if getting mashed potatoes will cost the customer an extra $1. It’s not about the one extra $1, the customer can afford that; it’s about the principle of the matter that pisses people off more than anything.
d) Never engage in “bait and switch” tactics. This is not only illegal but highly unethical and you will lose these customers for life. Not only that but they will tell all their friends and family to avoid your business. “Bait and switch” is when a business advertises something alluring just to get customers in the door and once they do, they either turn the promotion off or just refuse to follow on previous promises. They try and change the wording or terms and conditions, not delivering upon what was advertised. It’s illegal in most states, and if you offered a coupon you must adequately train all staff to look out for it and to honor it at all cost. Remove all outdated coupons on Yelp.
e) Don’t hide prices. If you are charging for the tomato inside your burger or for the extra hot sauce or ranch with hot wings, you mustspell it out for the customer and tell them in advance. If they ask for it at the POS you must alert the cashiers to notify customers of the additional chargebefore they charge the customer. I have seen many businesses get in trouble for this, including a local bookstore that had to show an embarrassing sign forced upon them by the California Department of Weights and Measures. These are the guys that check on the accuracy of prices in marketing and averting for all restaurants. They also check to make sure gas stations are not overcharging us (how else would we know?).
Evidently the store accidentally had an advertised price for a book and sold it for $2.87 more than the advertised price. The note said they had to pay $1,500 in fines and mentioned the title of the book, a children’s novel. Is making an extra $2.87 worth the price of paying a $1,500 fine? Hell no. So be careful. I almost fell in a similar trap once when a suit and tie wearing Asian gentleman visited our Burbank store. He politely asked me for a chicken plate and asked for Mutabbal instead of Hummus. Luckily I was on the cash register at the time, and since I designed the menu board myself as well as the POS system I knew by heart that there was a .50 cent charge for that adjustment. I told him ,” Sure, but there is an additional .50 charge for that is that OK?”
And that once sentence saved us from paying the $1,500 the book store had to pay a few months later. This was way back when we still used Casio cash registers. Sometimes I miss those days. These new POS systems are too complicated for me, and I have since spent much less time ringing up orders, which was one of my favorite things to do. Not only do you interact with customers and help the crew, you also get to learn how customers order and make adjustments to the menu accordingly. He kept the receipt and told me he was with the Department of Weights and Measures.
We have since made all sides the same price and no longer charge customers a different price for any changes in sides or customization. But at the time we had Mutabbal cost a bit more because it’s made with Organic eggplant. But as you will learn later, making them the same price is so much less headache for us then ever having to deal with a bad situation where we mistakenly forget to tell the customer about a $.50 charge. Imagine how embarrassing that would be. People might take a picture of that “Scarlett Letter” the Dept of Weights and Measures puts on your window and post it to social media or worse, on your Yelp page for all to see. It’s not worth it. Make sure all the food prices and any additional fees are listed on the paper menu if they are not listed on the menu boar.
3. Always help people. Even if they don’t intend on buying from you. Remember that your customers should want to come back. I’ve referred many customers to local pastry shops and other sorts of businesses they’ve asked me about. I’ve referred people to doctors, lawyers, local artists, graphic designers, web designers, and my suppliers time and time again. It’s great if you can be a “hub” everyone can rely on, someone with a phone contacts list so long it would be 500 pages if you typed it out. People should always rely on you to match them with others. It will pay dividends for you later.
4. Keep the Receipts for all Credit cards and on the POS system. Make sure you have a great POS system that can easily file all transactions and keep them for you. This is extremely useful to look up past customer transactions. We have done this for customers hundreds, and now possibly thousands of times. We go through many orders a day, so naturally a few of them will be wrong. We can always go back and check and make sure to keep the customer happy, or if there has been an incident to make up for it. You can always check on theft.
Make sure to work out a nice deal with your credit card processor where they will cover you for returns that are $20 or less. We used to work with a credit card processor that I can’t name because we eventually sued him for theft. Since we won the lawsuit and he agreed to pay us back about 5% of what he stole from us, we agreed to keep his name confidential. Just be sure to always check on who you do business with and have a qualified CPA check if what they said in their contract matches what they are actually charging you. A 1% increase in what they are charging you can cost you thousands of dollars. Over 7 years we estimate this individual stole from us about $175,000. It was difficult to prove, and in his contract his had stipulated mediation in Texas if we ever sued him. So this thief covered his tracts and had to only pay us back 10%.
It’s on us as business owners to always watch out for theft. they will rob you blind if you let them. This has to do with customer service as well because just like they can steal from us, they can also steal a cut from customers. It’s happened. So keep you eyes open.
5. Respond Promptly. Emails should be responded to in a prompt and courteous manner. Messages on social media should be answered within that business day or the next business day. Think of them like hungry little birds. If you don’t “feed them” by checking all your messages, social correspond, emails, voicemails… etc. they will soon starve and “die” by simply leaving you for another mother hen that will feed them properly. If you’re too busy to do it assign it to someone that is reliable.
6. Think like a leader, not like a manager. A leader creates good customer relationship management systems. Your job, and my job, is to create the system. This means we have to establish a full-time response team with adequate training, skills, and tools to be able to deal with any situation. Remember what we said earlier: there is no way that we can always be there in person. A manager helps us by solving problems and issues as they arise, each day. They put out fires. As a leader we are more of a firehouse that the firefighters go and come from. We should not put out the fires ourselves, only train others and equip them to do so on our behalf. If we don’t do this, especially in the food industry, we will just as soon go crazy.
A leader thinks about how to solve the problem long term, not just in the immediate situation. So for example, if people are writing to you asking the same sort of questions every week, how would you handle that situation? A manager keeps answering the same questions over and over, as they should. A leader, in contrast, lists the question and answer on a well-established FAQ section. Make it easy for customers to see so that they won’t have to contact you. As Jeff Bezos of Amazon says: “The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.”
Delegate employees to handle most, if not all situations. My own personal rule for this is that if the situation is less than $20, I want the employees to handle it themselves. I don’t want to here about it. Just keep them happy, make it work. It’s really not that hard because most of them are awesome people.
7. Always be available through 24/7 communication. The way we do this now is through our website. Most Zankou Chicken locations are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and some are open later in the evening. But what if a customer wants information early in the morning, say around 8 a.m.? Many people wake up super early and want to organize what they order for lunch for their entire office. For situations like this and many other things, our web site is always there for people. They can browse around, see what each person likes, choose what they want and write it down. You’d be surprised if you see the amount of phone calls we receive every morning as soon as we open at 10 am. You want these people to browse and have answers when you’re not awake yet. You don’t want them calling you, to wake you up, just to place an order.
The point is your online platform is very important and it answers many questions people may have. Social media serves the same purpose, so make sure you are everywhere your customers are. This “always on” connection to our customers is extremely important. People want to know the brand is always there for them, when they need it. It’s great feeling to have that reliability and trustworthiness, and if you’re fortunate enough to have so many people always seeking you out, never let them down. Make sure there are no dead links on your online platform or social media. Also make sure you answer as many questions as possible on your FAQ and have a searchable database where customers can quickly type in a “search” and find what they are looking for on your web site. Many web sites don’t even have a search function.
8. Offer Incentives and Rewards. Customers love punch cards where they get the 10th wrap free. They love coupons, incentives, check in offers on Facebook, Yelp, and Foursquare. They love receiving coupons in their mailbox if it’s for a brand they already shop with. Everyone loves a great deal, so write down a few ideas and take it to your board. If the owners disagree, ask them this question, “OK, I can see why you wouldn’t want to do that. What do you think we can do in terms of giving our customers offers?”
See how they will respond. Doing deals everyone is on board with is not only fun and exciting, you will meet new people and make lots of new customers. Always negotiate the best deal you can with local businesses that offer direct mail coupon services such as ValPak and Pennysaver. The trick is to create an unbeatable deal that is both visually pleasing and at the same time hard to ignore.
9. Place plaques and other reminders for customers right at the POS. How about your new special? Shouldn’t you advertise it just before a customer orders? We have some great posters on the walls at Zankou Chicken that remind people about the amazing food. I have also placed acrylic plaques by the POS system to remind customers of the latest and greatest deals and help the cashiers upsell. Why should someone just buy a whole chicken when they can get an entire Family Meal? Why would they get a few things for the family or office when they can order an entire Mediterranean Feast? This spot is the very best place to remind your customers about the possibility of saving money by ordering more.
You can also create visual training manuals for employees that are just a few pages that detail upselling strategies. Make it easy for them to sell the higher profit margin items, and create incentives for them to be able to do so.
10. Get rid of the robots: Bring back the human element. When someone calls Zankou, a human being picks up the phone. get rid of all the robot zombies. Everyone is sick of “pressing 1 for this, 2 for that, etc.” Businesses that put people through this crap and make you have to jump through hoops should lose every customer they have. Make it simple by just answering the phone. People miss and love the human element that’s been missing in the USA ever since we outsourced everything to China.
11. Make sure the food is always hot and fresh and the line moves quickly. This is admittedly an operations issue, but hot and fresh food is the Number One priority. Do a kitchen and serving area layout inventory. Find out what is slowing the process down. Ask the managers and the cooks, cashiers and the cleaning people. Ask everyone and eventually you will figure out bottlenecks that are slowing down the factory. At our Burbank location we were able to make orders 33% faster by just switching where the rice was cooking, bringing the kabob machine closer, and positioning the cooks a bit differently. Every little improvement goes a long way. Customers waiting even 5 more minutes then they have to will be extremely angry and unhappy.
12. Give away free stuff. Promotional materials not only make your customers into super fans, they spread the love and the word about your brand. I give away dozens of free T-shirts, seasonal items, mugs, and other promotional materials. We love keeping our fans and customers happy, turning them into super fans and brand evangelists. I recently witnessed this when for the month of September in 2014, I did a post on our Facebook page and gave away 10 free invitations to the Magic Castle in Hollywood. What does the Magic Castle have to do with Zankou Chicken? Nothing. And that’s the point. Your social media and marketing shouldn’t only be about you and your brand. That would sound so brazenly narcissistic. Your social media should alert people to local happenings, art galleries and events, keep your people in touch, and every so often give things away.