April 14, 2014 |

Body Language

By Pamela Mills-Senn

customer service, hostess, cashierYou want the good news first, or the bad? The good news is that where it concerns pizza, customers are starting to make decisions based on factors other than pricing. For pizza restaurants that have seen their profit margins plummet due to the price wars that have afflicted this industry, this change is welcomed. The bad news, at least for some operations, is what customers are looking for: exceptional customer service. Those restaurants that have relied heavily on discounting to generate business could find this new mindset unsettling, says David Holmes, vice president of operations for D.C.-based Out East Restaurant Consultants.

“It will be challenging (for them) because people in this industry have been brought up to compete on price,” says Holmes. “But now, restaurants will have to reach in and compete on a whole new skill set.”

Although many components go into creating outstanding customer service, essentially, it consists of significantly exceeding expectation, says Holmes.

“The minimum expectation is to be greeted at the door with a smile and seated as quickly as possible, have the order taken speedily and accurately, and have a good product delivered in a reasonable amount of time,” he explains. “The server should wait a moment after bringing the food to make sure everything is okay with the order. The customer should not have to wait an undue amount of time for the bill to be delivered to the table or to be picked up. And when they leave, they should be asked how their meal was and thanked for coming.”

Any server should be able to do the above, says Holmes. However, memorable customer service goes deeper than this, and consists of an array of behaviors, such as posture, body language, tone of voice and facial expressions, that make customers feel valued and welcomed.

More Than Words

Of the three: words, tone of voice, and body language, the latter is the most powerful and conveys the greatest amount of authentic information, says DeAnne Rosenberg, president of DeAnne Rosenberg, Inc., a management training and development company headquartered in Wareham, Massachusetts.

“Research indicates that only seven percent of the message is delivered verbally. Thirty-eight percent is tone of voice, and 55 percent is body language,” she explains. “So, if there’s a discrepancy between what’s being said and the body language, people are going to believe the body language.”

For example, if a server says, “Welcome to Pizza Towne,” and frowns or doesn’t make eye contact, customers will believe this message over the words. Not only that, says Rosenberg, they’ll sense a disconnection between what is being said and the body language, and will view this negatively.

Doubt the impact of body language? Consider what messages the following non-verbal behaviors might send to customers if, while taking orders, your servers were:

  • Looking impatient, tapping their foot or their pencils.
  • Rolling their eyes, looking around the room, frowning, or looking downward.
  • Standing sideways to the customer.

Still skeptical? According to communication expert Ron Riggio, professor of leadership and organizational psychology at California’s Claremont McKenna College, and director of the Kravis Leadership Institute, also located at the college, evidence indicates that the non-verbal behavior of servers is related to tip size. For example, in one study, when servers squatted down instead of standing to get more “connected” to the customer, their tips were larger, says Riggio.

Vocal cues are especially critical to an industry that relies heavily on phone contact with customers, says Diane Diresta president of DiResta Communications, a consulting company based in Staten Island. Here, with body language removed, the pressure is on words and tone of voice to transmit the impression, making this a challenging form of communication.

Answering the phone without a proper greeting (“Hello, thank you for calling Pizza Towne. How may I help you?”), picking up the phone while yelling to other people (“The verbal equivalent of not making eye contact”), putting people on hold interminably (“It’s like ignoring them”), and speaking too rapidly (“indicates impatience”) are some of the phone sins that DiResta and these experts mention.

“And yes,” says Riggio, “you can “hear” a smile – or at least hear the positive affect in the tone of voice, and you can clearly hear boredom or irritation as well. Expressive, positive individuals, and those who maintain a connection via cues of immediacy and responsiveness, are better liked than those who do not engage in these nonverbal behaviors,” Riggio continues. “Liking is connected to the customer’s entire experience at the restaurant, and to their tendency to return.”

Managing the Performance

Waitpersons are actually engaging in a form of social acting, says Riggio. “You wouldn’t be happy with a play where all the actors simply read through their lines quickly without nonverbal affect, inflections, or emotional messages,” he explains. “Customers (dine out) for a positive experience; they expect waitpersons to be attentive, pleasant and responsive.”

Holmes seconds the servers-as-actors concept, and says that, consequently, training and rehearsal are essential. Managers should hold daily pre-shift meetings, not only to review the specials, but to also remind staff to listen intently, make eye contact, and to use other body language cues to connect with customers.

Managers should also monitor how employees interact with customers, get specific about the behaviors they expect their staff to exhibit, and model these behaviors themselves, says DiResta.

Training will not only help employees manage their impressions more effectively, it will also help sway the disbelievers, resulting in more consistent customer service.

A good approach, says Riggio, involves role-playing with feedback, pairing employees up to play customer and server. Or take a flip chart and ask servers to list their pet peeves when it comes to the interactions they’ve experienced as customers, says Rosenberg. Then run a discussion on how to avoid presenting your customers with these actions.

And remember to reward servers when you catch them doing something right, says Holmes, who reminds that feedback and rewards must be immediate. “This is the quickest route for taking a new skill and turning it into a habit.”

Listening CPR

Diane Diresta, president of DiResta Communications, a consulting company based in Staten Island, New York, says the following “listening CPR” formula will help servers connect with your customers:

  • Clarify. Get as much detail as you can (“Did you want the dressing on the side?”).
  • Paraphrase. Repeat back to the customer what you’ve heard, making sure your understanding is accurate (You want the low-fat dressing on the side”).
  • Review. Review the entire order (“You want a small cheese pizza, medium diet coke, and a small dinner salad with low-fat dressing on the side”)

“This strategy not only reduces errors, it allows you to build relationships with people because it gives you more contact,” says DiResta. “And remember, people come back because of the relationships.”