Leveraging Technology to Achieve Uncommon Service and Reduce Waiting


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If you haven’t read Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, you should beeline to Amazon right now. I’m not prone to hyperbole, but this might be the best book I’ve ever read on achieving service excellence. In case you want the thumbnail, here is an infographic on the book:


One of my favorite takeaways in the book involves Truth #4: Involving your customers in the experience. Understanding that you have customer operators. The ultimate test is when you can get the customer to do the work and have them be happier for it. Technology has become a powerful lever for improving the overall experience.

The universal sign for the check now includes a SWIPE

Here is an example from Applebee’s that illustrates the point. According to a report by CNBC:

applebees tablets on tables

Who likes waiting for the check at a restaurant? Julia Stewart, the CEO of Applebee’s parent company certainly doesn’t.

She’s pulled the trigger last month to buy 100,000 tablets for Applebee’s. The chain has 5,000 in service currently, with plans to install another ninety-five thousand by the end of 2014. Patrons can not only pay checks without waiting for the server, but also play games and place orders.

“Customers have been telling us for some time—even myself … I don’t like to wait for the check,” said Stewart. “That was the first sort of pain point we heard of, and we had this unique opportunity with technology to make a real difference.”

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Here are some stats from early industry use:

  • 70% of the tables utilize the tablets
  • Appetizers increased by 20%
  • Desserts increased by 30%

There are also some other noteworthy increases. Customers are leaving faster, more satisfied and with a higher check total. Plus they now have a new option to keep customers and/or their kids occupied while they wait for food. The tablet is a WIN on about five different levels.

Hate to Wait?

The 9th of the 12 types of purple goldfish is all about “waiting.” Waiting for your customers is inevitable, especially if you are a successful business. How you handle those moments and the little extras you offer can make a big difference.

Enough waiting already, let’s look at seven examples:

#1. Ugh . . . Flight Delays

jetblue promise#414 in the Project comes from Sharon Trainor-Smith.  Sharon talks about an experience with JetBlue:

“When flights are delayed they often show up at the gate with tables full of free water and snacks, and then set up a trivia game for everyone with good prizes such as free flight tickets, gift certificates, etc. The stranded passengers LOVED these bonuses and there was a lot of positive buzz. Plus by giving out flight tix, we were incented to come back to JetBlue. It turned a bad situation into a really positive group and brand bonding opportunity.”

Takeaway: When faced with lemons . . . make lemonade. Make the best out of a bad situation by being proactive. It’s not about the water, snacks or trivia . . . it’s about what they represent. They stand for the fact you care about your customers. Kudos to JetBlue for bringing a little humanity back to air travel.

#2. Smart moves that make waiting less painful

Great Wolf Lodge WaterparkThey say (whoever they are) that we spend 10% of our life waiting. Even with all the practice we get, waiting still is painful. If you are a business prone to peak throughput, you take steps to make the waiting bearable.

#509 in the Project is taken from Connecticut Magazine about America’s largest group of indoor waterparks Great Wolf Lodge:

“At peak check-in times the lodge has a face painter, juggler and balloon sculpter wandering to entertain guests.”

#3. Peanuts

five guys purple goldfishFive Guys Burgers and Fries is one of my favorite examples for waiting. They are #94 in the Purple Goldfish Project.

  • Peanuts –  One of the signatures of ‘FIVE GUYS’ are the free peanuts they serve.  There is a huge box when you walk in. In the early days the long lines forced the Jerry Murrell and his four sons Tyler, Ben, Chad & Matt (aka Five Guys) to distribute free, unshelled peanuts to placate waiting customers. The peanuts have become a FIVE GUYS trademark.

#4. Sign in for complimentary wine

pacific cafe san franciscoPacific Café, a seafood restaurant in San Francisco, offers free glasses of wine while you wait for a table. They don’t accept reservations and it’s a popular spot, so the beverage is a nice gesture to extend to patrons as they wait to be seated.

#5. It’s ‘all about’ the fans of your brand

#503 in the Purple Goldfish Project was taken from a tweet by Tim Baran (@uMCLE): Lady Gaga

Here is an excerpt by TJ from Neon Limelight:

“Say what you will about Lady Gaga . . . her persona is over the top ; her music videos are blasphemous  — but one thing you can never say is that she doesn’t love her fans

little monsters(Little Monsters).

Her connection with her Little Monsters is undeniable and the lengths she’ll go to to prove that are boundless.

Several Gaga fans camped out in early July  in front of the Rockefeller Plaza and braved the scorching New York City heat a day ahead of her concert appearance on the Today Show to ensure they get a prime spot.

Once Gaga learned that her Little Monsters were going all out to see her perform, she sprung into action to make sure the wait was a bit more bearable. “My little monster sweeties are already camped outside today show! I love u! Will be sending u pizza and water all day!” she tweeted.

#6. H2O while you wait in line

J.Crew flows into the Purple Goldfish Project at #625 courtesy of a submission by  Jim Joseph, author of ‘The Experience Effect’

jcrew bottle of water“So here’s another purple goldfish, and I actually feature it in my book… I experienced it again yesterday.

J.Crew. I’m a huge fan, have been a for awhile. Brand experience is exceptional, always consistent whether you are at the store, online, or browsing the category. Distinct to each of those venues, but always J.Crew.

The shopping experience in store is particularly good. The sales staff all wear the clothing, so you can actually see how things will look. I’ve had many of them show me how to tie a tie the “just so cool way” they are wearing them, or how to role the cuffs up on a pair of jeans, or how to partner a pair of shoes with new khakis. This is in store, but they also offer a personal shopping service online as well.

I was at one of the Manhattan stores yesterday, and as you can imagine for a Saturday afternoon in December it was packed. Didn’t matter though, the service was impeccable. When I walked in the door, I was greeted by a salesperson. I immediately told her that I was looking for a purple jacket for my daughter …. she immediately took me to the back of the store to see three options. I went upstairs to the mens department where the service was just as good, despite the crowds.

With merchandise in hand, I proceeded to the registers where there was a huge long line. Here’s the kicker …. more sales people were working the line with buckets of small bottles of water for the people who were waiting. And helping select more items while people were in line.

That’s a purple goldfish!”

#7. Spa services while you wait

#628 in the Project comes from an e-mail from Carolyn Ray.  She nominates Purple Goldfish Hall of Famer Lexus.

In Carolyn’s words:

lexus of north miami spa

“At Lexus of North Miami people who come in for service are entitled to a complimentary spa service at their in house spa. Services include, manicures, pedicures, haircuts, waxing or chair massage.

There is a full service cafe, kids playroom, fitness center and pool room for waiting customers. Makes coming in for service a total pleasure!”

Overall Takeaway: If you are going to make people wait . . . figure out ways to make the waiting more bearable.  If you are a leader like Lexus, you give your dealerships carte blanche to create experiences that customers actually look forward to. Lexus gets it and utilizes the “little extras” as a key differentiator in the car ownership experience.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is Waiting Tables. A nine-minute documentary where waiters and waitresses dish on all aspects of their profession:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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