How is the phone being answered at your business? Do you [really] know?

Being able to understand what customers are experiencing from their perspective is quite valuable to today’s business owner and especially, to restaurant owners. Maybe even more so in light of workforce challenges, it’s imperative the customer experience be handled with kid gloves. So much hinges on the customer experience and especially what is often a first touch-point in the experience – the telephone.

Even for repeat customers, each visit is a new experience. It’s another opportunity to make a first impression, to showcase your business, to reinforce, whether subliminally or otherwise, in a customer’s mind they’re making the right decision (maybe once again) to frequent your business. If the initial contact is via the phone, it is the foundation of that particular visit, and essentially it is a first impression.

As part of our coaching & consulting services for restaurants, we include what I refer to as a “No-hassle” Mystery Shopping. This soft, no-hassle approach shops the restaurant with the goal of determining how the phone is answered and whether “simple” questions are answered in a courteous, professional manner. That’s it. Nothing more regardless of the responses.

Calls are not recorded, specifics are not written down, and no staff names are taken as the objective is purely focused on professionalism and responsiveness from the customer’s perspective. Based upon the results of the initial shopping, a subsequent round of shopping is conducted, but only if the initial shopping reveals major deficiencies AND after some customer experience training.

The goal of the mystery shopping is to identify inefficiencies in a normal setting with very typical questions a customer would ask. Certainly, it’s not to trick the person answering the phone. It’s not to chastise or embarrass anyone. It’s an opportunity for improvement, but that only occurs as the team embraces the results as opposed to being on the defensive. It’s essential to maintain that portion of a right culture.

“No-hassle” Mystery Shopping Project

Let’s take a look at the results of one of our no-hassle mystery shopping projects conducted for a small hospitality group.

The objective was to shop two restaurants within the group. One restaurant would be considered upscale dining. The other is more of a restaurant & bar fun place. Both are located in a town that is known for a big-name university. Both establishments are well-known and stay quite busy. Both are considered as “go-to” places for locals and visitors alike.

Let’s refer to the upscale dining establishment as The Lodge on the Square and the fun place as The Lion’s Den.

The Mystery Shopping was conducted over a six-week period. Times varied from just before opening to just before closing including typically busy and slow times. At times, two calls were made back to back, but never more than that; in a couple of cases a second call occurred as the first call was being handled.

A total of 83 calls were made. 37 to The Lodge on the Square and 46 to The Lion’s Den.

Callers identified themselves as being a person familiar with the restaurant, a parent of a new student, a student visiting town for first time, a person in town on business, a local person with family coming into town, a current patron celebrating a special event, etc.

Simple Questions

  • restaurant hours – what time do you open or close?
  • brunch – what days do you offer brunch, hours, able to order from regular menu, can you accommodate a large party of 10?
  • location – where are you located?
  • children – do you have a children’s menu?
  • reservations – do I need to make a reservation for dinner, for brunch?
  • specials – do you have any specials today?
  • dietary – do you offer any gluten-free or vegan items?
  • wait time – is there currently a wait for a table?

The Results

The Lodge on the Square

  • 37 calls were answered. (2 calls were not answered despite being open for business.)
  • In general, calls were answered in a professional manner.
  • Calls made Friday & Saturday evening tended to be answered after several rings as opposed to other times when they were answered on the first or second ring.
  • When callers were politely asked to hold on, it seemed to be the norm to wait for an acknowledgment before doing so. Hold times were typically quick.
  • A handful of callers sensed abrupt responses, but only during what appeared to be busy times. Abrupt, but not quite rude.

The Lion’s Den

  • 46 calls were answered.
  • In general, calls were answered in a courteous, friendly and fun manner.
  • Most calls were answered promptly.
  • There appeared to be a tendency to put callers on hold and without waiting for acknowledgement. Hold times varied. A few for an extended period.
  • Responses tended to be short and curt, yet on point. 

Observations & Comparisons

The Lodge on the Square

  • Without a doubt, callers felt like they were calling a high-end restaurant.
  • Responses were articulate and customer focused, and to the point. Mostly, the responses seemed to encourage customer response.

The Lion’s Den

  • Calls were answered as might be expected from a more laid-back restaurant.
  • Responses were conversational – like speaking with friends. Yet not really customer focused. 

Learning Experiences

Responding to phone inquiries is an opportunity to create (or recreate) a positively memorable first impression.

It’s an opportunity to engage with the customer in such a way that it becomes personal. For instance, after providing directions to the restaurant, asking what time the customer expects to arrive AND telling the customer your name and mentioning to them to ask for you when they arrive.

It’s a similar opportunity when responding to inquiries for hours of operation and wait times. It creates a subliminal obligation and commitment on the customer’s part. It creates a relationship with a person along with the restaurant. If done throughout the customer experience, a customer might say, let’s go see Brandy & John at The Lion’s Den tonight. It builds long-term relationships.

Regardless of what may be going on when a phone rings, the call should be answered as if nothing else is happening. Smiling is conveyed to the caller via tone of voice and an engaging conversation. As well, a frown or sense of frustration can also be conveyed.

Maintaining a phone log goes a long way to determining how much business may be missed, necessary staffing for peak times, and for follow-up. It can also point directly to things that could be improved. For instance, location inquiries could possibly be alleviated with added verbiage on Google or on social media.

All calls should be answered in the same manner; Good evening, thank you for calling The Lodge on the Square, I’m Rachel, How may I help you? Doing so creates a great initial impression for the restaurant and the customer experience. As well, phone calls should end with, Again, thank you for calling The Lodge on the Square, I’m glad I was able to help you this evening – or I’m looking forward to helping you when you arrive. I’m Rachel. Please ask for me when you get here.

Great Hates by Customers (per USA Today survey)

  • Being put on hold – 23%
  • Poor screening – 11%
  • Call waiting – 11%
  • Mouth noises – 9%
  • Not paying attention; distracted – 8%
  • Voice mail – 7%
  • Bad attitude; rude – 7%
  • Disconnected; hang up abruptly – 7%
  • Other – 11%

Last, but certainly not least…

  • A telephone call is an integral part of the customer experience.
  • A telephone call is the first step (or another step) toward satisfying the customer and establishing a longer-term relationship (repeat business, referrals, catering, events, etc.)
  • A telephone call can make or break whether the experience is positively memorable, or if there’s even a chance to deliver an experience.
  • A telephone call is typically not considered in a restaurant’s business plan, operations manual and even in training, but should be. Same is true for most any business.

Although this particular project was focused on restaurants, mystery shopping can be conducted for any type of consumer-facing businesses. I always suggest starting out with a hassle-free approach. Then, based upon the results, conduct training and/or a subsequent shopping that focuses on the identified inefficiencies and specific goals that may be brought to light as a result of the initial shopping.

Mystery shopping is not only relegated to the telephone. They can be very instrumental in identifying inefficiencies in text messaging and social media, as well. Of course, mystery shopping works quite well in-person. But what we have found are a plethora of logistical challenges for projects beyond telephone mystery shopping including that it’s just not possible to match the frequency that can be done as in mystery shopping by phone.

Resources For Your Organization

If you’re interested in learning more about Acceler8Success Group services or are interested in having our recent series, Preparing for War: You vs. Recession presented to your organization, either as a webinar, workshop or conference break-out session, please click HERE for more information. Our services and programs can be tailored to your business model, product, service offering and industry segment.

The future may be a bit bumpy for some, more so for others. Having resources at your disposal is important. Knowing who to turn to and when to turn to for guidance and help is also important. So, if you hit a wall, for whatever reason, please feel free to reach out to me for assistance or even if you just need someone to talk to. Please do not hesitate. You can reach me on LinkedIn, by email to, and by phone or text at (832) 797-9851.

Have a great day. Make it happen. Make it count!