There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Don’t open a shop if you don’t like to smile.”
That’s an essential trait for anyone working in the nightclub, bar or restaurant industry. But these days, as smiles are being replaced, to some degree, by technology, it’s important to work harder than ever to create an emotional connection with everyone who walks through your doors.
And it starts as soon as a customer arrives. “There’s nothing like a warm welcome to start an emotional connection with customers,” says Steve Rigell, CEO of Preemptis, Inc., a consulting firm in Poulsbo, Wash. “All business is based on relationships, not transactions, and emotional connections are always taking place.” And that’s one thing that won’t change, he adds: “All of us will always seek human connection.”
“Face-to-face interaction is key,” says Rieva Lesonsky, CEO and president of GrowBiz Media in Lakewood, Calif. “Customers should be greeted. If they’re regulars, staff should learn their names, and their ‘regular’ orders. People do business with people they know, like and trust, and it’s key to earn that trust. Personal interaction helps you do just that.”
Emotions are behind a whopping 50 percent of all buying decisions, and according to Lesonsky, you can create a bond between your business and your customers via strong emotions. Good emotions, she points out, can lead to more business recommendations as they lead to loyal customers.
Who are You?
To connect with your customers, you have to realize they’re not coming to you for your unusual cocktails; nor for your extra crispy calamari happy hour fare; they’re coming for an experience. So, find out what they love about your establishment. This is probably a way it makes them feel. Does it energize them? Relax them? Make them feel connected to others? Make them feel at home?
And remember, you need to appeal to your core audience. You are not going to emotionally connect with everyone, so don’t even try. To do this, of course, you need to decide what you are and what you stand for. You then need to be that, in everything you do, from your menus to your social media marketing and your sign outside.
What can you do to really appeal? Some coffee shops, for example, put out bowls of water for patrons who visit while walking their dogs. Customers are beyond happy that someone cares for their pet. What are you doing to show customers you care?
“Consumers walking into a restaurant or bar have a different attitude than those walking into a retail store. They want to relax and enjoy themselves—and that’s the atmosphere you need to create,” Lesonsky says.
Have the Right Employees
A lot of what’s behind making these personal connections with guests is having the right employees. If you have a reasonable staff in place, but they’re just not connecting with customers, all is not lost, says Lior Arussy, CEO of Strativity, a customer experience strategy firm in Hackensack, N.J.
If your staff is not up to par, ask them why, he suggests. Ask questions to find out what will help them be better at their jobs.
But more importantly than that, be a great role model, he explains. If any employee sees you sincerely thanking a customer, they are liable to mimic your behavior.
Best practices for emotional connections:
Be empathetic: Really read your customers and solve their problems. Are they in a hurry? Do they need someone to listen to them? “It’s about making personal connections,” Lesonsky explains. “If the staff notices people don’t seem to be enjoying their meal, ask why. And provide a solution such as ‘Can I get you something else instead?’”
Be authentic: Don’t try to be the same as everyone else. If you are, you’re interchangeable with any other server in the country. Be different but be yourself.
Tell stories: Is a cocktail named after the owner’s cat? Did the wood from the bar come from an old farmhouse 25 miles away? Sharing stories like these with customers makes them part of the establishment’s family “and helps them relate to you,” Lesonsky points out. And everything must tell your brand’s story, from your logo to the drinks you serve to the chairs at the tables. And tell the backstory of your establishment: Did the owner struggle for years before finding a formula that works? “Anything that personalizes you and your business helps cement the fact you’re a person [who] owns a business,” she says.