Finishing Strong: The Doas and Donats of Creating Lasting Impressions

Creating a Good Final Impression on Customers

Delivering truly great customer service can sometimes seem like a mystery.  It’s not.  But it is complicated, consisting of a number of components, all of which must be present during service encounters in order for the results to be exceptional.  Some of these components are well known and receive appropriate focus from servers and their managers (always making eye contact when speaking with a guest for example).  The importance of others is less well understood and they are therefore often neglected, making truly successful service encounters nearly impossible.  Finishing strong is arguably the most important of the misunderstood, and the one that is most often neglected.  Here’s why and what you and your staff can to do to make a great and lasting final impression.

Experiencing Service

Research indicates that as customers we experience service in a very specific way.  We remember the beginning, the end, and any high and low points in a service encounter and use them to determine the success or failure of that experience.

Think of it like a movie you’ve seen recently.  I bet you can remember how it started, how it finished and the best and slowest parts in between.  These recollections determine your overall impression of the film.  Knowing this, filmmakers focus their efforts on grabbing your attention at the beginning, maximizing high points, eliminating low points and finishing strong.

We should do the same, but we don’t.

What We Do

We in the food and beverage industry focus our efforts on making a strong first impression, providing timely, accurate and attentive service in the middle and minimizing or eliminating errors.  We don’t focus our efforts on finishing strong, to our detriment.  There are a number of reasons.

1.       We do understand the importance of making a good first impression. Every manager I’ve ever had has stressed the importance of quickly making initial contact with a new guest and how to do it best.  Plus, making a good first impression is like a thing…in the world.

2.       We don’t understand the importance of strong finish in determining the success of the overall service encounter. No manager has ever told us or made it a point of emphasis…who knew?

3.       We do understand the importance of a strong finish but think the service encounter is over before it really is. So many servers work hard to the point where they get food and beverage to the table.  All of them are trained to come back a few minutes beyond this point to make sure everything is satisfactory.  Their hard work done, many assume that so is the important part of service.  Not so. They may want drinks refreshed, plates cleared, dessert, coffee, after dinner drinks.  The satisfaction meter is still running for the guest even if it isn’t for you.

3.       We do understand the importance of a strong finish but we’re busy…with IMPORTANT stuff. Your check?  It won’t get cold but my entrees for table 7 are in the window and they will.  Plus, I have to get to table 5 in three minutes for the initial greeting -- company policy. Buh-bye.

What We Should Do

In our industry there is clearly insufficient understanding of the role that a strong finish plays in the success of the overall service encounter.  As always when this is the case, it is incumbent upon managers, owners and operators to educate and train staff and reinforce behaviors that improve the situation.

1.       Educate staff on the manner in which their guests experience service

2.       Explain the importance of all components in determining the overall success of the service encounter

3.       Define the duration of the customer service encounter and the importance of being attentive to its end

4.       Create policies that define standards of server contact at the end of customer visits

5.       Quantify the financial benefits servers can realize by selling additional items at the end of customer visits

6.       Provide incentives that reinforce desired behaviors 

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