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National Restaurant Association - The key to success: Your customer is always right

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The key to success: Your customer is always right


  Peter Nolan, Chief Brand Officer, Roti Mediterranean Grill

Integrating customer insights into your company’s innovation efforts can have a huge impact on a brand’s success, says Peter Nolan, chief brand officer of Roti Mediterranean Grill. Nolan spoke at the National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Marketing Executives Group fall conference.

“It’s so cool and weird and fascinating that every day a random group of people walk in through our doors and give us money for the food that we make,” he said. “I keep wondering what’s going on in their heads and what is it about our experience that they love, what is it that keeps bringing them back? To me, the role of the customer and customer insight is integral to a company’s innovation and brand development process.”

Nolan says restaurateurs should listen to customers to connect their insights into what the brand is trying to accomplish. “If I’m trying to make my company better from a brand experience point, the customer who comes in twice a week, or 100 times a year, makes him or her expert on the brand, and I would be foolish not to take his or her opinion into account.”

Here are his tips to obtain valuable customer feedback:

  • Take time to actually listen to your customers. First and foremost, hear what they have to say and respect their opinions.
  • Conduct consumer surveys. Surveys are a great way to incorporate customer feedback. When survey info comes in, it’s like Christmas. Think about the initiatives your company is working on: making the dining room more comfortable, the menu board more legible, the app more navigable. All of those things should have a customer component to them because they are part of the customer experience.
  • Before you conduct the first survey, plan the next one. Think almost like a calendar of curiosity. What do you want to know … and then what else do you want to know? “How do we ask our customers about these innovations? We have to understand who likes the product, and then we ask them what they buy.” Then, the company saves information from its heavy users into a meta database to allow that information to flow into the company.
  • Engage in casual conversations with customers. Be the most curious people in your companies. Talk to your customers all the time.
  • Speak like your customers. When talking to guests, don’t forget to speak like them. If you want to get close to your customers, use their language. “Speak to customers about what it is they love about you and where it sits in their heads. If you can get those questions answered, that will go a long way toward understanding the way they experience your brand.”

    Nolan likens the marketing/customer feedback experience to a formal dance. “We’re trying to find people to dance with us, right?” he asks. “So how do you achieve that? You want to look good, dress right, and make sure everything is perfect. Then you want to make sure you say the right thing.”

    But the real secret to getting someone to dance with you, he says, is to be a great dancer. What does that mean for restaurateurs?

    “Make sure your food is great, and ensure a great experience,” he says. “Talk to your customers so you can make the food better and create a great place people want to be in. If you love and respect your customers and treat them well, they will come back again and again.”

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