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Conor Kenny explores 10 Customer Focused ideas to think about in a rapidly changing market.

All Change.

When Ireland began to emerge from its self conscious & subordinate past our founding fathers, DeValera included, expressed their aspirations and vision of Ireland. "Ireland of the hundred thousand welcomes" It ran through everything, even a state company bearing that very notion "Bord Failte". Fast forward to Italia 90 & the ambassadorial role of the "friendly" Irish. Forward again to today & a newspaper headline "Cork man convicted of racial abuse". Times are changing and so is Ireland and the customer. A French gentleman visiting Ireland described his fast food experience; "We were taken to a fast food cafe where our order was fed into a computer. Our hamburger made from the flesh of chemically impregnated cattle, had been broiled over counterfeit charcoal, placed between artificially flavoured cardboard and served to us by recycled juvenile delinquents" Much has been written about change & it can be summed up simply by "Change or Die”. A business is either growing or dying, it is never standing still. Even though we are acutely aware of change, the paradox is that we resist it. Years ago the proprietor was the judge of who came in, who stayed & who was excluded. Now, it is the customer & the circle has turned. As the court records once reported...convicted criminal... "As God is my judge-I am innocent”. Judge “He isn’t, I am, and you’re not”

You’re Welcome.

Or are you? There are two key words that underline great customer care in the Pub business, hospitality and service. However, the real question is how often are they practised, taught and tested? In a fast paced turbo charged busy society the emphasis can be all too easily on speed, efficiency and profit rather than on the customer. A return to basics is no bad idea. Ask anyone about a great night out and the reply will always be people related, not design, efficiency or the brand new plasma screen TV. The starting point is the welcome. It is simple but it is lost. In some cases, it is gone completely. Return that fundamental and you are half way to inspiring your customer. If you add a warm smile, you are almost home and dry.
Conversely, don’t forget to say “Goodbye”. It’s simple, emotional and a great way to cap a good night.

For Your Eyes Only.

But a smile and a warm greeting are not enough. Some Pubs are good at it but that alone will not separate you from the competition. Great Pub experiences are driven by great bartenders. Great bartenders are made through training. A simple and highly effective basic rule is to make real and sincere visual contact with your customer. Bill Clinton is famous for only having eyes for you. After all, when I walk in to a Pub it’s not just for a drink, it’s for recognition. Next time, ask a customer to define what he means by ‘my local’. Better still; ask him the difference between a local and a Pub.

Squeeze Me Please Me.

Most Publicans worry about where the next customer is coming from. “Get a band” cries your average manager. Better still, “have a themed night” shouts the enthusiastic young aspirant. Then, the wise old owl quietly says “sell them more” Today it is not about price, it is about value. Encourage and train your staff to upsell. The additional margin comes at no extra cost and guess what? Your customers will love it. Think of how supermarkets create additional sales and think of those magic words that prove the point “I got a bargain”. What are your points of difference that create value for your customers? Or, have you any at all?

Lights Camera Action.

People create atmosphere. Nothing else, full stop. Good design and comfort merely facilitate that. The secret to a successful outlet is to understand and develop your own DNA. Develop your points of difference. Develop what you do best, what you know best and make it absolutely relevant to where you are and who wants you or could want you.
A Pub is like a theatre. Every night when the lights go down the show is over another day is done. The next day, no matter what has gone before it, the show will have a new audience, often a first time audience, and today’s show must, at the very least, be better than the day before. The actors who will deliver the show are your people. If you do not invest in them in many ways you will have an average show. After all, what is the point of a beautiful comfortable cosy theatre with great sets, great seats and great lighting if the guys on stage have no idea what they are doing?

People Power.

Until you ask your staff where your Pub is at everything else is irrelevant. In other words who knows best what’s really happening other than those at the coal face. Your staff and colleagues know the truth and therefore they know the solutions. You cannot successfully develop exciting new ideas if you do not hear the internal issues and barriers first. Successful Publicans listen, learn and then act.
The best ideas lie within. Again, once you have listened to your staff and unblocked their barriers, it’s time to hear their ideas. If you create an atmosphere and method to encourage ideas they will flow. Their intimate knowledge will give you the answers.
Develop a cross section of people throughout the Pub into a meaningful group that meet regularly. They will reflect what’s really happening. Train them, teach them and empower them. They will surprise you.

What’s The Mood?

If my mood is escape, indulgence, relaxation and a base from which to block out the cruel bad world, give it to me and develop all the elements that make this the most tantalizing Pub I could ever wish to visit. Think of how some wonderful Irish Pubs in wonderful settings have carved out their role and place.
If I am in full power business mode I need technology, a place to call my temporary office. I may need a place to meet, greet and deal make. On the other hand, if I’m entertaining then are you giving me the tools, space and atmosphere that makes me make my way to your door? Spot the difference?

Watch Your Language.

There is always a danger that industry speaks to industry. It is astounding how often the very thing we are dissecting, analyzing and challenging is not represented by the customer, the consumer. It is a starting point that often gets missed. People i.e. customers, do not talk industry jargon, they talk experience. We are unlikely to report on “an excellent nights fine drinking, some silver service haute cuisine, and a wonderful taste beer accompanied later by a robust merlot whilst repairing to the superior snug!” However, we will say “what a brilliant Pub” This is the key to success. Treat your customers as they want to be treated then deliver that time and time again. Develop your Pub to meet these needs and create your unique brand of hospitality. Forget imitating that which you are not. Instead, take a leaf out of the ex Mayor of New York’s book, Ed Koch. He shunned his official car and took cabs to have his ear to the ground. His famous question? “How am I doing?”

Food Glorious Food.

Food has become a key component of Pubs today. But, great Pubs are not simply about food, they are about choice. My mood determines my need and my need determines my choice. If you take the simple “we just have to do food” route you will fail. That is not enough. Customers have choice and they also have sensitive radars. If you want them to eat your food in your Pub, make it interesting, value, consistent, different and ever changing. Make it reflect the market you cater for and give them what they need all the time, every time. After all, it’s not your Pub, it’s their Pub!

And Finally.

People relate to great Pubs in simple ways. Often, the perfect analysis of the perfect Pub is summed up by “It’s a great Pub, there is always something going on” Success is an understated simple comment that captures the response to your behind the scenes effort. In the end, it’s about putting yourself into the customers’ shoes. That is a simple yet effective compass that will not fail to guide you.
The Publicans who stay ahead work at it. They invest in external help, their people and most of all…in the customer.

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