You walk into the branch bank where you have been a customer for more than nine years. You want to cash a dividend check for 84 cents, but are required to show your driver’s license, a blank check from your account, the last four digits of your social security number, your blood type, and your mother’s maiden name.

Or, you have been a member of a certain upscale credit card company for more than 43 years, and you call in looking for some assistance. If you can make it through the automated menu to a real person in less than an hour, you are put on hold and subjected to Barry Manilow. Finally, a very small voice says “Hello?” and you find out you are talking to the 5-year-old daughter of an employee who is there for “Take Your Kid to Work Day.” She saw the pretty red light blinking and decided to answer daddy’s phone. Daddy is talking to the nice lady from accounts receivable.

The above are two examples of the opposite of personalization, or getting the customer to join hands with the brand and consider himself part of the brand’s family—introducing the customer to the store owner and the owner to the customer. You want the customer to feel special when he visits you; you want him to feel personalized to your business, not just to another database. Let’s spend a few minutes exploring how you might do that.

Of course, the best way to make the customer feel special is to remember his name. But with your customer counts, that is pretty difficult. Two quick thoughts: If it is a carryout order, ask for his first name and write it on the bag. The food is now personally his and no one else’s. And if it is an eat-in order, put a little card on the tray with his first name. Same effect.

If you were to walk into my doctor’s clinic, you’d see a rack with takeaway cards showing a picture of the doctor and a brief bio. Do the same for your management team. Put up a bulletin board with the pictures and names of your crew people (maybe just first names if full names make you nervous). You could also feature a crew person with a brief post about her interests.

Ask your customers to sign up with their e-mail address to receive special offers and news, but make sure you follow through. Don’t make them wait for contact. My wife and I signed up at a restaurant several days ago and have yet to get anything from them. Bad restaurant.

Ask your crew who their best customers are. Odds are they know the names of those who are your heavy users. Ask the crew person to introduce you the next time that customer stops in. You could also have a friends-and-family day. Have your family and close friends work the store for a day and introduce your family to your customer family. It could lead to lots of fun and lots of new friends.

Allow your customers to give a percentage of their sale to their favorite charity, not yours. There are companies that handle all the logistics to make this happen. Your customers get a warm feeling when their meal helps their grade school, and you introduce yourself to the community when the check is handed to the principal. You personalize yourself to both your customer and your neighborhood. The key is that the customer picks the charity or school, not you. If you want help finding someone to help you, e-mail me.

There are also companies that can personalize your company to your customers. You tell them whom you want to reach, and they will find that customer, contact him, and introduce him to you. You and that company can then work out what offers that customer wants and how often. Usually, you’ll meet him through e-mail and he’ll tell you what he wants. It’s a total personalization for you and your customer. Again, if you want help finding these companies, e-mail me.

You have a tendency to buy from someone you like and trust, someone you know. Wouldn’t the following scenario be great for you?

Norman is a nice guy who doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what or where he eats. He gets hungry, he eats. He has been to your quick serve, but not recently. He is about to experience a transformation. He is about to be personalized.

Norman is on his e-mail one day when he receives a message from you, personalized to him. You introduce yourself and tell him a little about you and your family. You guess he is hungry and invite him to your restaurant. Norman agrees he is feeling a little empty, thanks you for your invitation, and takes off for your store. On the way there, he hears your radio commercial with a special offer and is reinforced. He is also reminded of good times he has had at your restaurant, and now can’t wait to get there. He arrives, is greeted generously, notices his first name on his tray, and, as he enjoys his meal, the manager stops by, calls him by his first name, and genuinely inquires if everything is OK. Norman has just been personalized. He will be back.

Again, with your customer counts, you can’t know everyone by his or her first name, but you can take advantage of the technological opportunities out there to connect you with your customers. You can become more than a faceless owner with just a little work and thought. You can personalize yourself to your customers. If they like you, they will come.

Final thought: Be very careful of promotions with limited participation. I saw a backpack giveaway recently at a local quick serve where the first 100 kids got one. What do you say to the 101st kid? Or to the parent who shows up with two kids and says the other six are at home? I would really think this through before I did it.

Happy Trails, a Peaceful Life, and take care of those Trick or Treaters.

Restaurant Operations, Story