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Hospitality’s Lessons for a More Effective Sales Force

We’re told that successful salespeople can sell just about anything. Why is that? It starts with something I learned while managing restaurants after college—and it’s not about the food.

Think back to the last meal you had at a restaurant. Why did you go? Was it about the cuisine? Or, maybe, was it because you didn’t want to cook? 

Food may have been part of your decision, sure, but if you were also considering consistency and the overall experience, you’re not alone. Top-performing restaurant groups such as Hillstone (approximately $140 million in annual revenue) or The Cheesecake Factory ($2.1 billion in fiscal year 2015) run huge businesses that deliver on much more than just food. Non-hospitality businesses are no different. Gartner found that 89% of companies expected to compete mostly on customer experience by this year.

Any sales team looking to raise its game and deliver results, quarter after quarter, would be well advised to look to hospitality to learn two key lessons: build a repeatable process and focus on service.

Repeatable Processes

For process, you don’t need to look any further than The Cheesecake Factory. Not only has it scaled from 17 to 200 locations in the past 20 years, it has also increased its margins in the process. It has built the operational excellence of a quick-service restaurant within a team focused on a service-oriented fine-dining approach.

Similarly, Hillstone uses service standards (patrons who are seated at a table greeted within a minute, and served their first round of drinks within three) to deliver an experience that blew away the restaurant editor at Bon Appétit. Conspicuously absent from his rave review of the service: a description of the quality of the drinks—it matters much less than the experience that’s delivered. It’s the commitment to a customer-focused and repeatable process that helps The Cheesecake Factory and Hillstone demonstrate consistent top-line growth over decades and through recessions.

Businesses should create the same type of experiences for their customers, one that takes into account every step of the customer’s experience and seeks to make it the best that it can be.

Focus on Service

Service goes deeper than training. To deliver service, the service provider must have the knowledge to provide that white-glove service.

Think about it from the sales perspective. Companies realize that sales reps can't exist in their own silo—customers aren’t likely to accept “I don’t know” as an answer when they ask a sales rep about an open service ticket. Your reps may want to deliver that differentiating experience, but if they don’t have the business support to arm them with knowledge around the service side of the business, they’re powerless.

Next Steps

Put your reps in a position to be able to pull resources from the entire organization, and, as McKinsey suggests, you’ll be set up for success.

Happy customers are loyal customers, and loyal customers are more valuable customers. The best performers in hospitality have seen this for a long time, and they’ve taken the steps to break down the barriers between “sales” and “service” accordingly. It’s high time that sales teams leveraged the tools available to them to pursue the same strategy.

Next time you go out to eat, just remember: you may be learning from some of the best in the business.


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