Fine Dining to Hospitality: Lessons, Stories, and Musings

Hey CX Enthusiasts,

If you’ve been following me for a minute, you might know that hospitality has always been a source of valuable learning for me.

I spent my early 20s traveling with points and miles, and more than any other part of my journeys, I vividly remember great hotel and dining experiences.

When starting in CX, I was introduced to “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyer.

Danny Meyer is a prominent American restaurateur, entrepreneur, and author. He is the founder and Chairman of Union Square Hospitality Group, which owns several popular restaurants in New York City, including Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and The Modern. Danny is also the founder of Shake Shack.

Meyer's insights have been widely praised and have inspired many in the hospitality industry to adopt a more customer-centric approach to business.

There’s so much that DTC brands can be learning from hospitality, but instead, I am seeing brands leveraging AI tools to reply to 100% of their customer communication.

Aside from removing any chance to create a magical customer moment, outsourcing every potential customer touchpoint and handing it straight to the bots is ludicrous.

This week, I hope you’ll accompany me to explore how hospitality lessons can be applied to hiring and managing CX teams, customer engagement, and customer retention.

We’ve got loads to talk about.

  • Hiring: Unearthing the Elusive 51 Percenters

  • Managing: The Tango of Enlightened Hospitality and Empowered Employees

  • Engagement: Crafting Unforgettable Customer Encounters

  • Retention: Going the Extra Mile and Beyond

Before we get into it, a massive shout to Insense for sponsoring this week’s newsie.

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Tip: You must try unboxing videos or testimonials of new products to re-engage your customers.

Try Insense now.

Hiring: Unearthing the Elusive 51 Percenters

When assembling a customer experience (CX) team, it's all about finding that sweet spot between people skills and technical know-how.

Let’s talk about the 51% Rule from Danny Meyer:

Successful employees possess a balance of above-average interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence (51%), and technical expertise (49%).

Technical expertise can be taught; giving a sh*t can’t.

On the Hospitality side:

In the restaurant industry, the hiring process often focuses on the candidates' ability to connect with customers and create memorable experiences.

Restaurants prioritize hiring staff with strong interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, enabling them to understand customers' needs and deliver exceptional service.

I don’t know about you, but if I had the opportunity to choose a restaurant with better service and kind staff, I’d prefer that over any other one, even if the food is slightly less delicious.

I never forget how the restaurant staff interacted with me, how a maître d' made me feel welcome, or how great staff read between the lines to create pure magic.

The 51% Rule highlights the importance of balancing soft skills and technical expertise to do just that: over-index on magic.

Learnings for DTC:

Here are some key takeaways from hospitality to remember when hiring for your CX team:

1. Emphasize Emotional Intelligence and Interpersonal Skills: Like in the restaurant industry, CX professionals must possess strong emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills.

These qualities help them empathize with customers, navigate difficult conversations, and provide genuine caring and kind support.

When hiring, prioritize candidates who demonstrate these skills, even if they lack prior experience in your industry.

Ask them questions like:

  1. Tell me about a time you had to navigate a difficult conversation with a customer. How did you handle it?

  2. Can you give me an example of a time when you went above and beyond to help a customer? What did you do and why?

  3. Tell me about a time when you received negative feedback from a customer. How did you respond to it?

  4. How do you handle a situation where a customer is unreasonable or aggressive?

  5. How do you handle situations where you don't have an immediate solution to a customer's problem?

  6. Can you tell me about a time you had to work with a team member to resolve a customer issue? How did you communicate and collaborate effectively?

2. Prioritize Cultural Fit: Hiring employees who fit your company culture is as important as assessing their skills and experience.

A solid cultural fit ensures that your team shares common values and goals, which can lead to better collaboration, increased employee happiness, and improved customer experience.

Assess candidates' values and attitudes during the hiring process to determine if they align with your team culture. This helps ensure they contribute positively to your company's CX.

Ask questions like:

  1. Can you describe your ideal work environment? What kind of company culture do you thrive in?

  2. Can you give an example of how you've contributed to creating a positive work culture in the past?

  3. Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone with a different work style or personality. How did you handle it?

  4. Can you give an example of how you've demonstrated your commitment to your previous company's mission and values?

  5. How do you stay motivated and engaged in your work?

3. Look for an Adaptability and Growth Mindset: The world of CX constantly evolves, and your team needs to keep up with the changes. Look for candidates who are adaptable and have a growth mindset.

They are more likely to embrace new challenges, learn from their experiences, and continuously improve their skills.

To assess adaptability and growth mindset, ask questions about how they handle change, overcome challenges, and learn from their mistakes.

Ask questions like these:

  1. Can you describe a time when you had to adapt to a new process or system at work? How did you handle the change?

  2. Tell me about a time when you faced a challenge in your work. How did you approach the situation, and what did you learn from it?

  3. Can you give me an example of how you've applied feedback from a manager or customer to improve your performance?

  4. Can you give me an example of when you took the initiative to learn a new skill or take on a new responsibility at work?

4. Assess Problem-Solving Abilities: CX folks often face complex problems and must find creative solutions to address customer concerns. When hiring for your CX team, look for candidates who demonstrate strong problem-solving abilities.

This skill will enable them to analyze situations, identify underlying issues, and develop practical solutions for customer complaints.

During the interview process, present candidates with real-life scenarios that they might encounter in their role.

This exercise will help you better understand their problem-solving abilities and help you determine if they are the right fit for your team.

Toss some potential customer problems at them and see how they’d resolve them.

Here’s what I am thinking for JRB.

Managing: The Tango of Enlightened Hospitality and Empowered Employees

Enlightened Hospitality in Action:

Danny emphasizes that putting employees first leads to happier guests, which, in turn, benefits the community, suppliers, and investors. This cycle fosters loyalty and long-term success.

He calls this “Enlightened Hospitality.”

Instead of only obsessing about the customer, they also emphasize the employee experience, which I love and directly correlates with the work output, especially in hospitality, but definitely in CX.

Learnings for DTC:

1. Create a supportive work environment: Create a positive work environment where employees feel valued and supported.

Instead of operating with the “customer is always right” mentality, switch to the “customer always has a voice” mentality, and the team comes first.

Create a space for the team to connect weekly (IRL or online) and work to foster a team culture that celebrates one another, asks for help when they need it, and has each other's back.

2. Celebrate successes and learn from failures: Recognize and celebrate the achievements of your CX team, both big and small. This helps boost morale and motivate employees to continue delivering outstanding customer experiences.

At the same time, learning from failures and using them as opportunities for growth and improvement is essential. By fostering a culture of continuous learning, you'll ensure that your CX team always strives to improve and deliver the best possible service to your customers.

Employee Empowerment in Action:

A powerful example of employee empowerment comes from one of Danny Meyer's restaurants, Gramercy Tavern.

One evening, a couple came in to celebrate their anniversary. They had booked a table well in advance, but the reservation had not been entered into the system due to an unfortunate oversight. When they arrived, the restaurant was fully booked, and there was no available table for them.

Instead of panicking, the host, empowered to make decisions, quickly assessed the situation and devised a creative solution. They offered the couple a complimentary glass of champagne and invited them to wait at the bar while they could accommodate them.

The host then approached a regular guest dining alone and explained the situation. The guest graciously agreed to move to the bar to finish their meal, allowing the couple to be seated at the table.

To compensate for the inconvenience, the host arranged for the couple to receive a complimentary dessert and a special anniversary greeting from the chef.

The couple was so impressed by the host's proactive approach and the exceptional service they received that they became loyal customers and frequently recommended the restaurant to friends and family.

Learnings for DTC:

1. Empower your team to make decisions: Give your CX team the autonomy and authority to make decisions that benefit the customer. This can include allowing them to resolve customer issues without managerial approval or offering creative solutions to customer problems.

By empowering your team members, you enable them to take ownership of their roles, which can result in more exceptional customer experiences.

Instead of micromanaging, hire folks with a similar vision to break the script and create magical experiences.

2. Encourage problem-solving and adaptability: Cultivate a work environment that encourages employees to think independently and adapt to unique situations. This can help your CX team become more resourceful and adept at handling various customer issues.

3. Reward proactive behavior: Acknowledge and celebrate employees who take the initiative to go above and beyond for customers. This can inspire other team members to follow suit and foster a culture of exceptional customer service.

In the next section, we'll explore customer engagement and retention strategies inspired by the hospitality industry.

Engagement: Crafting Unforgettable Customer Encounters

A Memorable Union Square Cafe Experience

Danny recounts a memorable story demonstrating the importance of anticipating and exceeding customer needs.

One evening, a couple visited Union Square Cafe, one of Meyer's flagship restaurants, to celebrate their anniversary.

Unfortunately, they had accidentally left their tickets to a Broadway show at home, and the show was due to start shortly.

The restaurant's general manager sprang into action after learning of their predicament. He arranged for a staff member to take a taxi to the couple's home, retrieve the tickets, and bring them to the restaurant.

The couple could enjoy their dinner and still make it to the show on time, thanks to the exceptional service provided by the Union Square Cafe team.

Learnings for DTC:

1. Be proactive in identifying and addressing customer needs: The general manager of Union Square Café recognized the couple's problem and went above and beyond to provide a solution, turning a potentially negative experience into a memorable one.

But without an open communication line, they’d probably not even know this problem existed.

In a DTC context, always look for ways to accommodate customers' unique needs or preferences, even if it requires going the extra mile.

If you are using a chatbot and outsourced team, you’ll probably miss these opportunities because you probably won’t even know they exist.

2. Create memorable experiences: Union Square Cafe's actions turned a potentially stressful situation into a positive, memorable experience for the couple.

On the DTC side, we are so obsessive about SOPs and efficiency, and while that’s great for day-to-day, it can often rip out every shred of spontaneity and magic you might be able to create.

Always strive to create memorable customer moments by thinking: “What would I do for a good friend or family member?”

Retention: Going the Extra Mile and Beyond

Handling Customer Complaints at Union Square Cafe

Danny shares a story about handling a customer complaint at Union Square Cafe. A guest complained about the portion size of a particular dish, expressing disappointment with their dining experience.

Instead of becoming defensive, the manager swiftly apologized, offered to replace the dish with something else, and then went a step further by inviting the guest to join the chef for a kitchen tour.

This act of going above and beyond turned a potentially negative situation into a positive one, leaving the guest with a memorable experience that likely encouraged them to return and recommend the restaurant to others.

Learnings for DTC:

1. Create personalized resolutions for customer complaints: It's essential to not only address customer complaints promptly but also to tailor resolutions to individual customers.

A personalized approach demonstrates that you truly value your customers and their unique needs, fostering a deeper connection.

2. Leverage the power of surprise: Union Square Cafe's manager could have stopped at just replacing the dish, but the invitation for a kitchen tour added an unexpected element of delight.

Danny calls this “writing a great next chapter.” He empowers his team to go beyond just resolving the complaint. He encourages them to turn the negative experience into a memorable and shareable positive story - turning a retention moment into one that creates evangelists.

In the DTC space, businesses can similarly surprise customers by offering exclusive discounts, sneak peeks at upcoming products, or personalized recommendations to create a memorable experience.

3. Invest in post-purchase communication: Following up with customers after their purchase not only helps address any issues they may have but also shows that the business is genuinely interested in their satisfaction.

This ongoing communication can include thank-you emails, satisfaction surveys, or even personalized plain-text email follow-ups.

That’s it for this week!

P.S. Cody and I just launched a new episode of Down To Chat. We discussed two key topics: starting a new ad account and kickstarting a CX/Retention operation.

Check it out here.

Any topics you'd like to see me cover in the future?

Just shoot me a DM or an email!


Eli 💛