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Listening to the Voice of the Customer is a vital part of strategic planning

restaurant customersThe voice of the customer is an essential part of your company’s strategy. Whether looking at expanding into other markets, enhancing or broadening your offerings, or restructuring the business for greater efficiency, without listening, deliberately and regularly to the voice of the customer, and taking their feedback into consideration, you will miss out on valuable information that could make or break your company.

If you have no customers, you have no business.

As both a formally trained culinarian and a small business consultant, one of the shows that I find appealing is Chef Gordon Ramsay’s show, “Kitchen Nightmares,” a show where the celebrity chef goes into local restaurants who have requested his help to turn them around into profitable entities. He is also the producer of “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Master Chef,” all courtesy of the Fox broadcasting Company.

The common thread with all of these businesses, and any business seeking to get better at what it does, is that they require an outsider to come in and give them a “reality check.” An objective reality check can uncover all sorts of issues that owners may or may not be aware of, demonstrate how they impact the business and potentially, what can be done about them.

The episode, “Amy’s Baking Company,” focuses on a restaurant in Scottsdale Arizona that is owned and run by a couple who seem to be infatuated with the restaurant industry. Amy is one of the owners and the restaurant’s chef.  She loves to cook and bakes beautiful pastries and deserts, but has had no formal training. Her husband, Sammy, runs the front of the house. His background is in real estate development. The couple is struggling with the challenges of maintaining staff and the difference between Amy’s taste in food and that of some of the customers’.

While the restaurant is beautiful inside and out, the episode highlighted some of the customer experiences, wherein the owners became upset that customers did not have the same impression of good food that the owners had. In a few instances, the owners had heated exchanges with customers, asking them to leave and to never return.

Amy and Sammy decided to approach Chef Ramsay because they felt that he could help the people of Arizona understand what good food was, thinking that if he came and sampled the food, he would give it rave reviews.  Unfortunately, this was not the case. The culinary expert, instead, berated the food and the way the operation was being run.

While this should have been a wake-up call for the owners, the owners responded by attacking him and his expertise. Furthermore, they felt as though he was attacking them and refused to entertain any of the recommendations that he made. As a result…you’ll have to watch the episode.

The restaurant business is a quasi-service business. They design and manufacture food in the back of the house, or the kitchen area, and serve it in the front of the house, which is where customers sit. The two work together to create a unique experience for diners; while two restaurants may have the same or similar menus, it would not be uncommon for people to choose one over another because of preference of the combination of food and service in one over the other.

The feedback Amy and Sammy received from Chef Ramsey and the customers presented a great opportunity to have the customer’s complaints validated and to create a strategy for improving the restaurant. While Amy may have a magnificent palette, if no one is willing to purchase her food and customers leave feeling unsatisfied or worse, offended, she doesn’t have a business. If Sammy’s control of the front of the house is a difficult experience for both customers and staff, they have eliminated the two reasons that people go out to eat: to enjoy good food and to have a nice experience.

Every one of your customers may not be right at every instance. However, a pattern of feedback will either reveal that you are doing things great, or that there are things that you are missing in your product or delivery. Why is this worth visiting and pouring over? Because customers that don’t come back are missed revenue opportunities, and investing in additional marketing to keep business flowing makes finding new customers much more expensive than finding old.

The voice of the customer is critical in your strategic planning process. You do not have a business if you have no customers.  As the episode shows, it doesn’t matter if you dress your business up and have some items that are extraordinary; when you don’t value your customers’ input, your business is destined for trouble.

Rick Meekins is the Managing Consultant at Aepiphanni, the trusted advisor for business leaders who are seeking forward-thinking solutions to help them plan for and navigate through the challenges of business growth. Our entrepreneurial multidisciplinary team works with clients to develop differentiating solutions and provide direction focused on lasting, strategic results.  We exist to help our clients CREATE | DESIGN | BUILD extraordinary businesses.

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