Consistency drives word of mouth business

Last week, my wife and I went to a place we’d been looking forward to for some time.  Our 31st wedding anniversary dinner was the perfect occasion to try a new (to us) place, so we went to a local Cajun restaurant whose entree price ranking is $$ and name includes “Orleans”.

Long time readers know I rarely name poor performers. I’ve made note of the theme, price range and part of the name to set the expectation you’d expect to find there.

Expectations vs. Reality

The combination of Cajun, $$ and Orleans implied white tablecloths, a Bourbon Street vibe / atmosphere and good Louisiana cuisine prepared to order, perhaps with an emphasis on seafood.

The menu’s broad selection of Cajun seafood dishes nailed that, but expectation delivery faded from there. There was little to tie the ambiance to New Orleans. The table settings resembled something you’d find in a pizza joint. This created a bit of disconnect with the pricing, menu and the restaurant’s name – which implied fine Bourbon Street dining.

Despite arriving at about 7:00 pm on a Wednesday, the place was empty. Warning bells went off, but we figured we’d give it a shot anyway. After being seated, I noticed the floor was filthy. It seats 30-35 and on a busy night, I can see how the staff might not be able to get to the floor between turns. However, the dining area has a tile floor and the place was empty except for us, so finding it consistently dirty throughout the restaurant was pretty surprising.

The chef arrived at the restaurant at the same time we did. Rather than going to the kitchen, the chef sat down in the dining area with a couple of web site consultants and discussed the menu, photos and what should be changed on their site.

At no time during our visit did the chef enter the kitchen – including from the time we ordered to the time we received our food. Likewise, neither the waiter or cook staff approached the chef’s table for guidance. I suspect that the chef has their hand in their sauces and general guidance of the kitchen, but in a place this small in this price range, I expect direct chef involvement in the food and perhaps even a table visit on a slow night in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Instead, there was no welcome, no eye contact, no thank you and no time in the kitchen. Nothing from the chef.

Speaking of empty, it was quiet enough to hear the microwave beeping just before my wife’s étouffée arrived. Despite the microwave, the étouffée was surprisingly tasty and easily the best part of her meal. Oddly enough, the waiter discouraged her from ordering the entree, so she ordered a small cup to get a taste of it despite the waiter’s recommendation.

The inconsistency returned with my wife’s Shrimp Pontchartrain entree, which turned out to be a massive platter of heavily salted pasta / sauce with little sign of shrimp.  Meanwhile, my Catfish Tchoupitoulas was very good. I’d definitely order it again.

Quality and branding inconsistencies can damage any business – even if they don’t serve food.

Police your inconsistencies

Inconsistencies plague small business and can destroy repeat business, as well as word of mouth business. The more processes, systems and training you can put in place to root out these issues, the closer your business gets to marketing itself by reputation.

Our visit included a number of inconsistencies with the business’ pricing, name, menu and food.

The menu listed numerous chef and/or restaurant honors, yet the most recent award was four years old. The years without an award stood out as much as the period of years where consistent annual awards implied high quality. If you can’t show award consistency, don’t list the award years or list them as “Five time winner”. Meanwhile, address the inconsistencies that caused the wins to stop.

Whether you operate a three star restaurant or a tire shop, cleanliness is important. It’s a signal that a business cares and pays attention to details, while sending a message about the cleanliness of other parts of the business that you cannot see. Given the filthy condition of the dining area floor, would you expect the walk-in cooler, prep table or kitchen floor to be clean?

What inconsistencies can you address to increase repeat and word of mouth business?

Shivering your business timbers

Who dressed YOU?
Creative Commons License photo credit: juhansonin

Today is Talk like a Pirate Day (TLAPD).

In honor of such a fine day, a few thoughts, er I mean… Aye, what would a pirate do t’ strenghen your business today? A pence for an old man o’de sea?

First, how about sliding over to Mashable and look at their tips for celebrating Talk like a Pirate Day… and then come back here for some pirate advice before you get business scurvy, matey.

Great ideas for celebrating the day, but bummer – your business is open on September 19 every year. Now what?

Wasn’t that awesome Mashable post a great example? Mashable is a tech news blog. See how they took TLAPD and turned it into their own – while doing exactly what they do best?

Yes, it’s your turn.

So…what can you do to (here it comes *again*) use the news (calendarrrr, whateverrrr) to make your business stand out on this fine, fun day?

Maybe by the time you see this, it’s too late.

Let me help: Put it in your appointment calendar for August 19. Make it recurring on an annual reminder. Type this: “Plan Sept 19 Talk Like A Pirate Day promotion.

Yarrr, some examples

“But Mark, our business doesn’t have anything to do with pirates…” (Yes, I *can* hear you saying that)

 

OK, some examples are in order to get your creative juices flowing.

Maybe you make custom coffee mugs for the day that you only use on Talk Like a Pirate Day. Or you order a gross of them for cheap and give them away with today’s purchases. Of course, the mugs will have a silly pirate image, your phone number, URL, etc.

If you own a boat store, raise the pirate flag, silly. Dress everyone up like a pirate, or have some temps come in and dress up like pirates. You of all people should be able to hit this one out of the, uh, dungeon.

Own a lingerie store? If you can’t see some great ideas to get publicity using TLAPD and some temp models, you really need a cuppa joe:)  Hint: Imagine it was Talk like a French Maid Day. Now translate that to pirate.

Run a computer store? What a great time to have a “Bring your computer in and scan it for pirates (ie: spyware etc) Day”. Or to have an event that educates your clients about software piracy (find a smart way, please), or similar.

Develop software? What a GREAT day to offer amnesty to anyone who pirated your software and is ready to come clean. They liked it enough to steal it and keep using it, now they’re convinced that they have right product. Help them buy. Don’t embarrass them.

Do you run blood drives? Put your “I donated” stickers on toy eye patches. You can get half a million of them for $3 at Oriental Trading (well, close) or make them yourselves (a fun event for kids). Dress everyone up. Don’t be so boring. It’s just blood.

No matter what you do, make a fuss…matey.

Promote your event far and wide, have some fun with it, dress up your staff or those temps I mentioned and be that purple cow.

Don’t tick off the moms

Motrin learned this the hard way recently, with this ad on their site (note: it might disappear from YouTube):

Want to see what happens when you say the wrong thing to moms?

  • 5,700 hits (as of noon Monday Nov 17) on #motrinmoms, which is a tag for people blogging and tweeting on the subject – that is, Motrin’s misguided website ad about moms who carry babies in a sling.
  • 61,300 hits on motrin+baby+carrying+ad+mom
  • At least 16 people went to the trouble to make a YouTube response video.

You might be thinking that it’s hard to imagine that people give a rip about something like this, but when you insult the same people that your marketing is supposed to attract, it’s not hard to wonder who in your business is on the same wavelength as your clientele.

Peter Shankman has a pretty good angle on this Motrin thing as well – particularly as he wonders who is writing the ad, 23 year old guys or 20-30-something moms, but more importantly that there either isn’t anyone listening, or the right kind of person isn’t listening.

Though it took a while, McNeil has posted this apology on the Motrin.com website:

With regard to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you. On behalf of McNeil Consumer Healthcare and all of us who work on the Motrin Brand, please accept our sincere apology. We have heard your concerns about the ad that was featured on our website. We are parents ourselves and we take feedback from moms very seriously. We are in the process of removing this ad from all media. It will, unfortunately, take a bit of time to remove it from our magazine advertising, as it is on newsstands and in distribution. Thank you for your feedback. It’s very important to us.

Sincerely,
Kathy Widmer
Vice President of Marketing
McNeil Consumer Healthcare

I suspect the folks over at McNeil have been taking some of their own medicine over the last few days.

Once again, I’ll say it: Enter the conversation already going on in your customers’ minds. If you can’t relate to the situation of the person you are trying to sell to – find a way to get yourself to relate to it. McNeil could have saved themselves a lot of pain by showing this to 5 moms who work at McNeil.

You can – and should – do the same. If you can’t understand your customers, their problems, their wants and their needs, you’d better find someone who can.