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The Basics Part 6: Managing Perceptions

I went to the movies last night and I am surprised I’m not still in line waiting for my popcorn.

When I walked into the theater it was obvious I was in for a bit of a wait.  It was one of those cold winter Friday nights when there isn’t much to do outside and many retreat to the warm comfort of a weekend new release.

This theater was busier than it had been in months and they were feeling the crunch.  The line to buy tickets was stacked 25 deep and the concession stands weren’t faring much better.  The place was littered with popcorn and ticket stubs and generally the place seem understaffed and unprepared.

The problem wasn’t the lines or the crowds, however, it was how the theater had responded to it.  As I looked around I was able to see 2 stations at the ticket counter and 3 cash registers unstaffed.  There were very few people behind the counter helping out, meaning that the cashiers had to double back and grab popcorn and drinks for Guests as they waiting.  And those who were working behind the counter were not possessed of urgency or speed.

As the starting time for the next round of movies drew closer, you could hear a palpable sigh from those waiting to be served.

Now the theater had made a couple of mistakes and some of them were more about perception than reality.

Guests come to us with natural preconceptions.

At a movie theater you might already be prepared to pay a premium for snacks and probably not receive the best service.  If you head to a nice restaurant, you may be thinking about the high touch service and well prepared food.  If you are walking into a bookstore, you are ready for a relaxed experience with a knowledgeable  staff.

Some Guest preconceptions start you off in a good place and the experience is yours to maintain.  Other businesses start off in the hole, so to speak, and have to work hard to allay Guest concerns before they ever walk in the door.

When it comes to speed of service, everyone is in a hurry.  Let’s face it, the days of folks understanding lines of any kind are over.  In an on-demand shopping society, we have come to expect things on our front porch the day after we order them.  So combating lines is of paramount importance.  But it isn’t all about wait times, it also has to do with perception.  That could mean that you have all of your points of sale open and staffed during peak periods.  That could also mean ensuring “all hands on deck” during busy times to show your Guests you are ready for their business.  Finally, its about keeping the urgency high without panicking.  Remember, when you keep your team motivated to serve and move lines quickly, without acting like a lunatic, it helps your Guests believe that you are doing everything you can to serve them.

A bonus tip for speed of service is to be sure that you are giving your Customers something to do while they wait.  Are you engaging them while in line?  Do you have free wifi?  Is there something interesting to look at or listen to like video screens or music?

Cleanliness is about showing commitment.  Remember that Guests will only walk so far before they just chuck their trash on the ground.  So help yourself out by having adequate waste receptacles in your business.  Along with that, make sure your team is seen out and about with a broom or towel keeping things clean.  When your Guests see a team that is actively cleaning up, they forgive any messes they may see.  They assume you are on your way to clean them up and they will often lament about how messy their fellow Customers are rather than seeing your business as dirty.

Never forget that perception is reality.  Now that phrase has become all too common out there – but I refer to it because while everyone is saying it, most refuse to live it.  It makes leaders sound clever but when it comes down to it, a majority of organizations are still oblivious to the Guest POV.

If you want to move past sounding smart to actually driving a performance culture, then get out and walk the reality of your Guest’s experiences with your brand.

That means logging steps in your business to see what is really going on.  It means walking through your business with purpose and a critical eye.  It means visiting your web page and ordering things online.  Finally, it means standing back and watching your business in action and evaluating every Guest touch point.  If it doesn’t serve the Guest or safety, then its time for a change.  You even have to challenge those things you see as crucial to your business model if it is at odds with safety or service.

So good hunting as you set out to evaluate speed, perception, and commitment to great service.

It’s really the only way to ensure that you aren’t just treating your Guests like cherished friends – but that they feel that care as well.


Tony Johnson -Guest Experience Leader-

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