Why Training Is More Important Than Marketing


Aug 27, 2015

What is in this article?:

Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at foodservice leadership conferences worldwide. His newest book Fundamentals is available at Amazon orSullivision.com. Check out his leadership video series at NRN.com. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

Sullivision.com chief executive Jim Sullivan

What is the function of a business?If you answered, “To make money,” you’re wrong. The function of a business is to attain and retain customers. The goal is to make money.

As I’m sure you know, having a full dining room, bar or drive thru is no guarantee you’re profitable. Volume can hide a multitude of sins: Chefs over-order perishable goods; cooks burn food; servers underwhelm guests; bartenders break liquor bottles; patrons knock over glassware; busers drop china-filled bus tubs; dishwashers drop forks in garbage disposals; and drive-thru cashiers over-portion napkins, sauces and condiments. Full house? Awesome. But a lack of customer retention via effective training means you just lost money tonight.

Money spent on customer acquisition (advertising and promotion) can fill a restaurant, but money spent on customer retention (training and service) makes that restaurant profitable by transforming a single visitor into a lifetime guest.

So, if our function is to attain and retain guests, which of the two is more important: customer acquisition or customer retention?

Regular readers of this column now presume that I will vociferously support and defend customer retention. And, if you’re a regular reader of this column, it stands to reason that you’re not only smart; you’re right.

When’s the last time you saw a TV ad for Starbucks or Chipotle? How about McDonald’sor Subway? McDonald’s spent $963 million in advertising last year, according to Business Insider. AdAge Data Center reports that Subway spent $516 million. Both Starbucks and Chipotle spent a fraction of those amounts in advertising. Now which two of those four brands have a stronger reputation for taking care of their employees and customers? Which ones invest more in customer retention (training and service) than customer acquisition (advertising and promotion)? Just saying.

Let’s look a little closer at the four stages of marketing and the role that training plays in its success. Restaurant trial occurs either by chance or by choice. Chance patronage is just that: circumstantial patronage resulting from either proximity or error. “I ate there because it was close to work and I tried it,” or “I got lost and was hungry.” Choice patronage, on the other hand, is a much more nuanced decision, initially triggered by external marketing (ads, promotion). But sustained patronage results from internal marketing: unit-level teams excelling at execution and hospitality.

The four stages of marketing

Awareness. In this initial stage of engagement, potential diners may not have even heard of your restaurant. So advertising, promotion and social media marketing budgets tend to be heavily weighted toward new customer engagement. Your potential new diners become aware of you through these efforts. Those who miss your message may hear about you from influencers who didn’t (influencers being the one person in 10 that affects awareness in the other nine).

Consideration. This stage is characterized by contemplation and then decision-making on the part of the potential customer. They’re now aware of you and trying to determine if you’re worth their time and money. If they decide you’re not, then the Awareness stage marketing campaign was money ill spent. If they decide you’re worthy of their time and money, you move to the next phase. Marketing has done its job and operations/training takes over.

Visitation. The diner has now moved through two complex and formidable marketing stages (Awareness/Consideration) and actually goes to the restaurant. This is why customer retention strategy (service and training) is so important: it’s where the brand meets the customer. Cherish this stage, because you experience the double win of patronage: The customer spends money with you and simultaneously does not spend money at the competition. Huzzah!

Preference (Affinity). This stage is the ultimate target for every foodservice department, executive, employee, manager, trainer and stockholder. Preference drives repeat business and lifelong patronage. Only by excelling at the Visitation stage every time do you convert customers to prefer your brand over others. Marketing is the car, training is the engine and execution is the steering wheel of customer retention.

How do you balance efforts between attaining and retaining customers? Join the conversation in the comments below.

As you consider the four stages, evaluate how your marketing, ops, HR and training teams can improve each one. When a new restaurant opens, most of its marketing dollars should be allotted to customer acquisition. But as diners accrue over time, shift those dollars into customer retention. Don’t overspend on marketing and underspend on training, lest you fall into the vicious cycle of constantly acquiring customers you can’t retain.

If you spend more on customer acquisition than you do on customer retention, you’re actually working for competitors who do just the opposite by providing excellent training, personalized service and a quality experience for every guest.

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at foodservice conferences worldwide. You can check out his training catalog of books, videos, apps and e-learning at Sullivision.com, and follow him on YouTube and Twitter @Sullivision.

How External Situations Rapidly Affect Behavior: The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment, a dramatic simulation study of the psychology of imprisonment and one of the best known psychology experiments ever undertaken.Dr. Zimbardo takes us through the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which healthy college students are transformed into unstable prisoners and brutal prison guards within days by the power of the situation in which they found themselves.

In 1971, psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues set out to create an experiment that looked at the impact of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. Zimbardo, a former classmate of Stanley Milgram (who is best-known for his famous obedience experiment, was interested in expanding upon Milgram’s research. He wanted to further investigate the the impact of situational variables on human behavior.

The question the researchers asked was how would the participants react when placed in a simulated prison environment. “Suppose you had only kids who were normally healthy, psychologically and physically, and they knew they would be going into a prison-like environment and that some of their civil rights would be sacrificed. Would those good people, put in that bad, evil place—would their goodness triumph?” Zimbardo explained in one interview.

The researchers set up a mock prison in the basement of Standford University’s psychology building, and then selected 24 undergraduate students to play the roles of both prisoners and guards. The participants were selected from a larger group of 70 volunteers because they had no criminal background, lacked psychological issues, and had no major medical conditions. The volunteers agreed to participate for a one- to two-week period in exchange for $15 a day.

The simulated prison included three six by nine foot prison cells. Each cell held three prisoners and included three cots. Other rooms across from the cells were utilized for the prison guards and warden. One very small space was designated as the solitary confinement room, and yet another small room served as the prison yard.

The 24 volunteers were then randomly assigned to either the prisoner group or the guard group. Prisoners were to remain in the mock prison 24-hours a day for the duration of the study. Guards, on the other hand, were assigned to work in three-man teams for eight-hour shifts. After each shift, guards were allowed to return to their homes until their next shift. Researchers were able to observe the behavior of the prisoners and guards using hidden cameras and microphones.

While the Stanford Prison Experiment was originally slated to last 14 days, it had to be stopped after just six due to what was happening to the student participants. The guards became abusive and the prisoners began to show signs of extreme stress and anxiety. While the prisoners and guards were allowed to interact in any way they wanted, the interactions were generally hostile or even dehumanizing. The guards began to behave in ways that were aggressive and abusive toward the prisoners, while the prisoners became passive and depressed. Five of the prisoners began to experience such severe negative emotions, including crying and acute anxiety, that they had to be released from the study early. Even the researchers themselves began to lose sight of the reality of the situation. Zimbardo, who acted as the prison warden, overlooked the abusive behavior of the prison guards until graduate student Christina Maslach voiced objections to the conditions in the simulated prison and the morality of continuing the experiment.

“Only a few people were able to resist the situational temptations to yield to power and dominance while maintaining some semblance of morality and decency; obviously I was not among that noble class,” Zimbardo later wrote in his book The Lucifer Effect.

According to Zimbardo and his colleagues, the Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrates the powerful role that the situation can play in human behavior. Because the guards were placed in a position of power, they began to behave in ways they would not normally act in their everyday lives or in other situations. The prisoners, placed in a situation where they had no real control, became passive and depressed.

Five Simple Steps to Achieving Clarity as a Team

Accountability requires clarity in tasks.

1. Identify a platform for recording all action items (e.g. dry erase board, a Google doc, etc).

2. Create a column in that platform called “What,” where you list out every action item that needs to be executed.

3. Create a “Who” column where you show who is responsible for each action item.

4. Determine “When” each task must be completed by.

5. Create a recurring follow-up schedule.