Don’t forget to check in

check inI am not a fan of the restaurant manager check-in trend that seems to be the rage these days. I like the concept – a manager who is genuinely concerned with their customer’s experience but the execution leaves me wanting.

I think my reaction is a negative one because it feels abrupt and insincere. There’s no context to the conversation, no relationship between the parties and honestly, I don’t think the manager actually cares if I’m having a good meal. It feels like they are checking a box on their To-Do list as opposed to genuinely asking about my dining experience.

Last week I was out with some clients in their hometown and the manager of the restaurant swung by our table. Instead of just diving into the “how are your meals” question, she asked if we’d attended the local music festival that had just ended and when we said that we hadn’t, she shared a few tidbits about the festival and then inquired about our meals. Even that little bit of conversation made her inquiry feel less contrived and I enjoyed the pride she took in telling us a little more about where their meats were sourced and how the food was prepared.

That’s the difference. Most managers don’t know their customers and the one or two sentence check-in feels rote. But when someone in an authority position actually invests a bit of themselves and some time into a check-in, they can be an effective marketing tool.

This is smart marketing for all of us, whether we work on the business-to-business side or serve retail customers. I’m all for more formal data gathering like satisfaction surveys but there’s something very personal and powerful about a simple check-in.

For this to be effective, it needs to be informal and personal. In today’s tech-driven world, this is a person to person connection and if you infuse technology into it, you’ll destroy the impact.

This is you picking up the phone or approaching your customer in the store or when you see them out and about. There are some other key elements that need to be present for this tactic to be effective.

You can’t be a stranger: The reason the drive by restaurant check-ins feel insincere is because they are impersonal and have no context. You want to be able to connect first and then ask for their feedback.

The more specific the better: Don’t use jargon or generic terms like satisfaction. Ask how your product is solving a particular issue or if they prefer what they chose this time to what they usually buy. When you are specific, they will be in return and you’ll learn a lot more.

Offer an enhancement or secret: During your check-in, be ready with some tip or trick that will make them enjoy what they’ve bought from you even more. Think of it as a superuser hack that most people might not know. Your goal is to make them feel like an insider. A residual benefit of this technique is that when someone mentions your business, they’re going to talk about the secret. They’ll love that they can look like they’re in the know.

Don’t combine purposes: This is not a check in AND a sales call. The minute you try to sell something, it completely negates any goodwill you created by checking in. If you want them to feel like you actually care about their experience and opinion, stay focused there.

This marketing technique costs you nothing but a little bit of time. But it will give you incredible insight into your client’s experience, spotlight areas of weakness or missed opportunities and, when done well, increase your customer loyalty and satisfaction levels.

Not bad for free!