What compels customers to drive past the competition and follow their smartphone to another door? While price or location are variables, there’s an even bigger factor: people will spend extra time looking for a parking spot when in pursuit of an experience they can’t get elsewhere. In fact, according to research, most people say they’re willing to pay more if they can get an experience that is worth it.

The brand, the environment, and other aspects contribute to the type and quality of journey patrons have with a restaurant. The biggest influence though, is the interaction customers have with employees. 

This is where many restaurants are at risk: Customers are subjected to the whims, moods and even follies of the employees—for good or bad. Even the best food or perfect promotion is worthless if one employee is struggling with something their boy or girlfriend texted them just before the start of a shift. And forget about customers Yelping high ratings if cliques or petty rivalries have formed on the team.

Managers who succeed despite these challenges do so by prioritizing the customer experience on par with health, safety, and quality. Delivering a differentiated customer experience requires executing with a proper mindset, certain actions, and providing timely feedback. Here’s what those three keys look like in action:

Mindset: Changing behaviors is not an intellectual exercise. It’s the business of the heart. No amount of preaching or demanding employees create a great customer experience will get them to shift behaviors for long. Besides, one reason why young adults come to work is to get away from parents telling them what to do.

Instead of mandating the experience employees should deliver to customers, keep in mind that the best way to improve outcomes is to activate the wisdom that the workforce already possesses. In other words, only when it’s the employee’s idea to elevate the customer’s experience will improvements in this area become a consistent reality.

Action: The most effective way to get a person’s attention or shift someone’s focus is to ask them a question. (Go ahead. Try it. Ask someone a question and watch where they go with their focus.) After stating a clear message of why delivering a superior customer experience is essential, ask these questions proven to mobilize hearts, minds and actions:

  • Why is it important that customers have a superior experience?
  • What experience does the customers currently have?
  • How does the experience the customer has relate to our ability to increase repeat business?
  • What are some businesses you’ve been to where you’ve had an awesome experience? And what created that for you?
  • When considering the customer experience, what does “superior” look like?
  • What are some of the things that get in the way of a superior customer experience occurring now?
  • What can be done to address those things successfully, so a superior experience can be delivered to the customer?
  • If a team member is not delivering a superior experience to customers, what should be done in a way that makes the team stronger?
  • What signals will customers communicate when they’re not getting the experience we’re targeting? What will be done in those moments?
  • What will customers do or say when they are having an experience that makes them brag about us to friends?
  • What’s the relationship between the employee’s experience at work and the experience the customer has?

Feedback: University of Stanford psychologist, Carolyn Dweck, has made clear in research that it’s a certain type of feedback that fuels greater growth in others. More than acknowledging a job well done, it’s focusing on the behaviors that cause improved outcomes that develops a mindset for future development.

While it’s tempting to celebrate the team for achieving a goal, focusing on the actions they demonstrated would increase the chances employees will continue to deliver an improved customer experience. For example, employees enjoy hearing, “Congratulations! We have the strongest customer return rate in the region.” However, it’s even more important to the store’s future success to say and ask, “The way this team shows up with a superior attitude every day, despite the challenges we all face outside work, is ensuring we deliver the customer experience we all said is important. How do you do it?”

Superior customer experience will become a greater reality when employees own the responsibility of delivering it. This is accomplished when the manager has the right mindset, takes action by asking questions, and then provides feedback focused on behaviors. 

Craig Ross is the CEO of Verus Global and a four-time book author, including Do Big Things: The Simple Steps Teams Can Take to Mobilize Hearts and Minds, and Make an Epic Impact. He is a trusted partner to leaders and teams at best-in-class organizations around the world, such as Nestle, Kellogg’s, Tillamook and SupHerb Farms, equipping them with research-based, proven processes and tools to immediately increase their capabilities, create even stronger work, and accelerate business results.
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