Are your teenagers, I mean customers listening?

Is there a reasonable comparison to be made between teenagers and your customers? I think so. My wife and I recently started helping out with the youth group at our church. We spoke to about 75 or so teens a couple of weeks ago and now help out on Wednesday nights in any way we can. Last week, as I sat talking with a group of about 10 teenagers, I couldn’t help but feeling really, really boring. No one was listening. Here I was, telling them about things I’ve learned over the years, trying to help make their high school years a little bit easier. And you guessed it. No one cared. They were either staring at the ground, staring at the ceiling, staring at a wall or texting. Just about all of them looked as if they would rather be just about anywhere else on the planet. Or so I thought. After the teens left, I received a valuable piece of advice. One of the guys who helps out with the teens, who is well-respected in the community and owns a successful small business, told me that, although they aren’t making eye contact, and though it may seem as if they aren’t listening, some of them are. Probably not all of them, but some of them are hearing what you’re saying loud and clear. He told me to power through. To keep saying the things I thought I should say. That what I had to say was having more of an impact than I realized.

I think that many times businesses, or more precisely, a businesses’ employees, tend to think their customers really aren’t listening or paying attention. Employees take their time while taking care of a customer, aren’t as engaging or as respectful as they could be, and make errors that seemingly go unnoticed. Trust me, your customers notice. They notice when you seem put off as you ring up their order. They notice when you aren’t empathetic and don’t offer a solution when your company doesn’t have a particular item in stock. They notice when it takes you three days to return their phone call, when you promised you would call back that same afternoon. It might not seem like they notice, but they do. It might seem as if they are preoccupied with the details of their own day, but you, as a provider of a good or service to them, may very well be one of the major details of their day. You may very well be one of the details they keenly remember at the end of their hectic day. And if an aspect of your brand does not meet their expectations, you are in trouble.

Your customers are secretly (sometimes not so secretly) listening to your every word, watching your every move. They are making judgements about your company at all times. Do not fall into the trap of thinking occasional mediocrity will generally go unnoticed. It will dilute your brand and give your customers a reason to consider taking their business elsewhere. Act as if your customers are listening. Because even though it doesn’t always seem like it, just like teenagers, they are.

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What Makes a Successful Restaurant Successful?

The Chocolate Bar in Cleveland, OH is wildly popular. People from all over town shuffle into the restaurant/martini bar every weekend in massive numbers. Bachelorette parties, first dates, 20 year anniversary celebrators, and many others like my wife and I who, last night, just wanted to grab dinner downtown. Everybody in Cleveland knows about the Chocolate Bar. Even those who have never been have undoubtedly heard nothing but good things about the “new” place at the end of East 4th St. But the question is, why? Why is it so popular in a city with so much to offer (yes, Cleveland has a tremendous restaurant scene) and on a street where it competes with over a dozen great dining options, including Iron Chef Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro and Zack Bruell’s Chinato. Why is it so successful when its food is average at best and its service is generally sub-par? The combination of those two factors would geneally lead to the following for most restaurants: OUT OF BUSINESS.

But somehow the Chocolate Bar not only survives in a highly competitive environment, but thrives, seemingly as well as any restaurant/bar in the area. The reason they excel is that they know who they are, and their strategy proves it. Let’s look at a few of the factors that are key to their success:

1) Location – as you walk down the lively, exciting, bustling East 4th St, at the end of the street, almost with a light at the end of the tunnel feel, you see the Chocolate Bar. Highly visible, high volume of foot traffic passing by, and they get the benefits of having an East 4th St location without blending in with the rest of the restaurants that are all right next to each other. Win, win, win.

2) Atmosphere – they have somehow managed to combine the atmosphere of an intimate little martini bar with the openness of a nice restaurant. You never really feel like you’re being crowded, but you also feel like you are part of a small, priviledged group of people that have been lucky enough to get a seat. The music is a little quieter and low key earlier in the night, and gets progressively louder and more up beat as the bachelorette parties begin to shuffle in a little later on. They keep the lighting low, so with the large windows in the front of the restaurant (with a great view of the East 4th activity) it has more of a restarurant feel. As you move further back in the narrow building, the lighing naturally dims, making you feel as if you are in a different place that has more of a martini bar feel to it. Brilliant. And it allows them to cater to multiple demographics. On a weekend night, you will undoubtedly see families up front, and younger adults towards the back.

3) Their Food – although average at best, it’s good enough. Yes, your product or service can be good enough – it does not have to be the best in town for you to succeed. While their food may not even be in the top 10 on East 4th Street, it is very reasonably priced. Last night I ordered a Turkey Club that certainly could have been worse, for $8. Tough to find dinner on Saturday night in downtown Cleveland for $8. And their food matches their target market’s needs and expectations. Meeting needs and expectations are two very different things – perhaps a blog post for another day. But the Chocolate Bar meets both.

4) Clientelle – the three key factors above have positioned them to attract their target market. A lot of 20-30 somethings frequent often. They have chosen the correct location, created the right atmosphere, and offered the right mix of food/drinks/desert to attract their target market. The beauty of this success is that it creates additional success for them. Once they attract and impress their target market, those patrons spread their satisfaction by word of mouth. As more target market patrons check the Chocolate Bar out, more people want to be there. Now it seems like they have achieved the ultimate success (at least short term) – people want to be at the Chocolate Bar because it’s the place to be. “It’s crowded and looks like a good time, so that is where I need to be” mentality.

Congratulations to the Chocolate Bar on their success. They aren’t likely to receive any raving food reviews any time soon, but I don’t think they mind. They will be content to play to their strengths and have tremendous success. Take a page out of their book – define your target market, meet their needs and expectations, and exploit your strengths.

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