What Keeps Customers Coming Back?

Two weeks ago my wife and I invited a friend to dinner at the new Blue Ribbon restaurant. After the staff turned an unforgiveable mistake into a wonderful story we now share with friends, it got me thinking about why I would return.

I realize that I, and almost everyone I know, keep returning and happily handing over our money to the same businesses. What makes these businesses special?

I believe thier common denominator is a focus on hiring people that exhibit these characteristics:

  1. Kindness — People that genuinely care about others. Employees that are naturally caring and considerate tend to treat customers respectfully and courteously.
  2. Gratitude — A complete lack of entitlement. People with a deep sense of gratitude who do not feel they are owed anything, but rather that they owe something back — that they ought to pay thier gift forward.
  3. Generosity— People who derive joy from giving have a natural tendency to think of others and what they could do for them. They are typically great observers, detail-oriented and better able to recognize a customer’s need before the customer themselves realizes it.
  4. Empathy — “[T]he action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” I would suggest that perhaps an even rarer form of empathy is treating customers as they would like to be treated. In other words, it’s less about exceeding every expectation, and more about exceeding the right expectations.
  5. Come From a Place of Yes — Specifically, a “yes, we can” attitude. A certain confidence that grows when each team member understands they are responsible for each other.
  6. Forward Looking — People who pursue perfection. Continuously asking, “how can we make this better?” This requires a high degree of optimism, but when things don’t turn out as planned, it is the most important trait an employee can have.

In my experience, individuals with these qualities seem to derive an almost selfish joy from helping customers feel welcome, appreciated, and providing a memorable experience.

In a larger sense, the amazing thing about service is its ability to transcend geography and culture. Everyone everywhere knows what it feels like and craves it.

Some acknowledgements are necessary here:

First, thanks to Danny Meyer. The ideas and concepts in this article were initially laid out in his groundbreaking book Setting the Table.

Second, thanks to Chris, Martin and Johnny at Blue Ribbon for an unforgettable dining experience and inspiring me to write this.

Finally, if you enjoyed or gained something from this article, please share it.

And, if you are interested in this topic you may enjoy my previous article on service here.

Thanks for reading.