Sharing Success

Focus on Satisfaction

From time to time, I enjoy rereading past issues of La Trattoria, especially Dino’s columns. That is because the fundamental business lessons he has shared over the years remain equally valuable over time. One of my favorites is from 1992, where Dino explains a powerful business mindset called We Always Guarantee Satisfaction that can help businesses earn higher customer loyalty over the years.

Dino first read about the W.A.G.S. philosophy in a business essay written by a successful Seattle restaurateur named Timothy Firnstahl. Firnstahl explained how his restaurant became far more successful after he went beyond guaranteeing the quality of his food and service to guaranteeing his customers’ satisfaction.

At first glance, the difference between guaranteeing quality and guaranteeing satisfaction might seem small. After all, if quality is high, won’t customers be satisfied?

Not necessarily. What Firnstahl figured out was that if a business’ ultimate goal is earning each customer’s long term loyalty, it does not matter whether the business believes its product and service are perfect. The only thing that matters is what the customer believes.

So if a customer became less than satisfied, Firnstahl concluded it would be pointless arguing whether the food and service were less than perfect or his customer’s expectations were unreasonably high. Keeping their business required making them happy again, period. So he empowered every member of his team to satisfy every customer on the spot, regardless of cost.

By focusing his team on satisfying customers (not just on producing high quality food and service), some very good things happened to Firnstahl’s business.

1) Striving to consistently satisfy all his customers meant that his team would need to consistently exceed the expectations of his most exacting customers. As a result, his team began pushing their overall performance levels far beyond what they originally considered “good.”

2) Even patrons with “average” tastes began to appreciate the restaurant’s enhanced quality and service. As their expectations began rising, they became less satisfied with “average” food and service provided by other restaurants. Sales grew as existing customers came back more often and satisfied customers went out of their way to spread the word.

3) Employees were given the authority and freedom to do whatever it took to satisfy customers without having to first consult Firnstahl or a manager. This helped them feel greater pride in their jobs, which raised their job satisfaction and reduced employee turnover.

4) Mistakes were fixed, but each error was also recorded. Firnstahl and his team worked to understand the root cause of each mistake and determined how to change their process to avoid it in the future.

5) Initially, visible costs went up as team members became more willing to remove items from customer bills if that is what it took to restore their happiness. But at the same time, the restaurant’s invisible costs (lost customers) began to decline. As a net result, restaurant profitability greatly improved.

6) Acknowledging when customers were not thrilled (evidenced by employees having to take corrective actions) helped identify opportunities to further raise the bar on quality and/or service. Instead of sweeping problems under the rug, the team became focused on continually “raising the bar.”

None of this worked overnight and Firnstahl experienced bumps along the way. But he concluded that focusing on consistently satisfying every customer every time (especially the most demanding ones) forced his business to operate at a much higher level.

Timothy Firnstahl’s approach may sound like the old saying, “The customer is always right.” The difference is that while many businesses say that is how they operate, Firnstahl built his entire way of doing business around that principle.

Focusing your business on satisfying customers (vs. providing excellent food and service) can help further elevate your own food and service quality. As Dino mentioned twenty years ago, adopting the W.A.G.S. philosophy has helped our company better serve customers. It might work in yours too.