My Customer is Anyone Who Isn’t Me (And Other Training Truths)

More training tips to increase your profits!

Fall is that special time of year where we forecast and budget the future; collectively taking an educated guess at the projected over-under on next year’s P&L. From the largest chains to the smallest independent operator, owners and executives are trying to reasonably assess costs and ROI either hunkered over spreadsheets or viewing day-long processions of Power Point presentations (I refer to them as “show ups and throw ups”) from each department with their projected budget numbers.

And as surely as Televangelists are the Pro Wrestlers of religion, you can bet there’s a huge chunk of time and a big bundle of bling-bling invested in marketing, while training is left with the crumbs, figuratively-speaking. This has always bothered me. After all, training is marketing, and the less money you spend on training, the more you end up spending on advertising.

So what’s the solution? One possibility is to do nothing. Another is to recognize that another name for training is internal marketing and maybe we should be ascribing the same percentage of gross sales to team education and development as we do to promotion, advertising, and marketing programs.

Look at the logic: training is the key to employee retention. Employee retention is the key to productivity, higher sales, minimal R&M, customer loyalty, and higher profits. Sounds like marketing to me. So while you ponder whether you’re strategically investing your budget dollars in the department with the greatest ROI, let me suggest a few tactics to consider when plotting your people development:

Start by Hiring Nice People

Every time you hire someone you’re adding to your marketing team. “Try to only hire nice people,” says Best Western training guru and author John Hogan. “Training people to be nice is tough.” As when it comes to customer-facing employees, remember the words of employment consultant Peter Carbonara, who says: “hiring is not about finding people with the right experience as much as its finding people with the right mindset.”

Train Learners First on What Causes Them the Most Difficulty and Frustration Day and Day Out

Is it the POS system, expo line, tip reporting? Interview your hourly team members and find out what gave them the biggest headaches during orientation. Focus your teaching efforts on these areas first before you concentrate on the softer skills of service or selling.

If You Can&Rsquo;T Excel With Talent, Triumph With Preparation

If you or your managers are grousing about the “quality” of today’s labor pool, maybe—and this is only a suggestion– you’re better off investing the time it takes to complain in teaching your team how to be better at what they do. Training is a process, not an event.

The Only Substitute for Good Manners is Fast Reflexes

The majority of customer service complaints revolve around disrespect or perceived disrespect. Kindness counts. Teach your team how to be energetic and engaged with their customers, one guest, one table at a time. A very successful NYC restaurant group teaches service by first investing in teaching its waitstaff the art of professional manners. And this certainly brings to mind the operating philosophy of the Ritz-Carlton hotels: “we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

Service is a Philosophy Not a Manual

The re-energized and growing Sizzler restaurant chain has a unique perspective relative to fostering a culture of service, and three of their operating philosophies recently caught my eye: “My customer is anyone who isn’t me. My customers are people first. I keep all the promises I make to my customers.”

Toss Training Materials That Are More Than Three Years Old

Are you using the same cell phone, computer, PDA or camera you used five years ago? What makes you think that there haven’t been similar advances in training and how people learn? And I’m not talking about e-learning. While companies selling online learning have touted its AMAZING powers and INCREDIBLE results, the fact is that the Internet alone cannot adequately teach us all what we must learn. A blended learning approach (role playing, print materials, videos, lecture, online, shift shadowing, and learning from mistakes) is and remains the most effective approach. Our company has re-designed some two dozen different training programs this year for 24 top chains, and there’s a consistent performance improvement in the P&L when you begin teaching the way that 21st Century hospitality employees like to learn. When it comes to your training materials, use “chunked” information and info-nuggets supported by lots of graphics, not long narratives or “steps” detailing operating principles and philosophy. Today’s training materials should have the narrative brevity and visual appeal of USA Today crossed with the nuances of instant text messaging and the intuitive learning flair of The Sims. If you understood very little of that last sentence, have a 21 year old server explain it to you and then ditch your training manuals, because you’re standing still. And as I’ve said in this column before, if you’re standing still, you’re walking backwards.

Thanks for your time once again, and until next month, remember: “Estamos para servírle.” (Look it up!)

 

 

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