This is Part I of a conversation we had with the director of training for a successful restaurant franchise about maintaining a great service culture as you grow.
In 2000, one of the first successful farm-to- table establishments opened in a small Southern town. The company quickly grew from 40 to 1,000 employees and opened 13 locations across the Southeast. Company leaders advocate secret shopping and have learned a lot about how to use shop data for customer service training that uses positive reinforcement.
The Director of Training, says, "People come for the food but they stay for the service."
He's found that service, food, and atmosphere are the three most important success factors. Monthly secret shops at all 13 locations help company leaders teach and reinforce their values and what they've learned about keeping customers satisfied.
How did you turn secret shopping data into a positive versus a negative with staff?
When we were still a young business, our floor managers would receive secret shop information, and when it was negative, they would post the feedback and server's name in the server alley. The staff felt berated and embarrassed.
The server's response was to memorize the secret shop questions and "right" responses, which turned our wait staff into robots.
As we grew, we saw secret shops as a tool for getting a second set of eyes on the overall functioning of each location as well as generating information to inform training and coaching programs.
Our purpose with secret shopping is to understand what guests are seeing not what managers are saying. It's knowledge we can pass on to our staff in a positive manner.
We decided to provide secret shop data only to senior operators and regional managers. The shop reports give them a snapshot of what's taking place. With that information, they can take proper action with a training and coaching approach.
Are your monthly secret shop questions always the same?
No. One of the reasons we like Mystery Shopper Services is the flexibility. Jennifer in your office will change questions on a dime. We move questions around and change scoring often.
We can quickly access data at-a-glance or in reports for a deep dive on your web portal. Your service is quick and helpful. The web access is very easy. Both factors keep us coming back.
How do you decide what information to capture through secret shops?
All of our questions are focused on the service steps that satisfy guests. For example, if a lack of or poor greeting shows up in the data, managers will know that how to properly greet guests should be covered again in training. Ensuring our host staff greets everyone with a smile and pleasantries, whether on the phone or walking in the door, is imperative.
We incorporate shortcomings identified by secret shoppers into training for hosts, line cooks, servers, and other positions as needed.
In Part II, we'll pick up with his secrets to restaurant success that can be incorporated into secret shopping programs.