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Is your ‘welcome’ really that welcoming?

The “welcome” is one of – if not the most – important aspect of the customer journey. It sets the scene for the entire visit and can make or break any experience.

It comes as no surprise more than two-fifths (42%) of respondents to an HGEM study said not being greeted by a smile or eye contact makes them feel unwelcome. The quality of the welcome is, without a doubt, one of the most important factors for diners when eating out. This is why so much attention, training and money is spent on making those first five seconds as memorable as possible.

Let’s look at the “customer journey” a bit more holistically, starting with a simple definition: “The customer journey is the complete sum of experiences that customers go through when interacting with your company and brand.”

Research shows the restaurant industry attracts the most searches on mobile devices. Let that sink in for a second. More than four-fifths (81%) of consumers have searched for a restaurant on a mobile device and 92% through a web browser in the past six months, while three-quarters (75%) often choose to dine at a restaurant based on those search results.

It is therefore safe to say in most situations the real “welcome” happens a long time before your customers even set foot in your venue. The complete sum of experiences is the combination of online and offline interactions.

So why are online and offline welcomes so drastically different when, in reality, the decision-making process and patterns in our behaviour don’t change? We recognise a need, search for information, evaluate our options, make a decision, and then reflect. This process can be short and sweet or long and complicated, but the process remains the same.

The welcome is your best opportunity to indoctrinate customers into your brand and its promise, yet in countless instances the online and offline experiences don’t match.

Imagine you are walking down the street, “recognise the need” you are hungry, and head to Restaurant Brand A. Ideally you are greeted at the door with a genuine warm welcome, eye contact, a smile, and perhaps a number of questions. How’s your day going? Do you need help with your bags? Do you have a reservation? Have you dined here before? Are you are expecting other people? The best operators digest all this verbal and non-verbal communication in order to make your experience memorable. They understand, empathise, suggest, recommend, upsell, surprise and delight – all off the back of the welcome.

Now flip into the digital world. Your “need” may be somewhere for a monthly get together with ten friends, a romantic date, an anniversary or somewhere to let your hair down and unwind over drinks with colleagues. After searching, you find yourself on Restaurant Brand A’s home page. The welcome here, however, is a bit of a bombardment – the latest pasta dish, a lunch special, deals on cocktails and how to order a takeaway or download the app. The home page rarely highlights the brand’s promise, tending to focus on short-term “smash and grab” tactics instead.

The same is true for “welcome” email journeys. It astonishes me how many databases I sign up for only to receive a transactional receipt saying: “Welcome – we will keep you up to date,” then nothing else appears until Mother’s Day or Christmas. At this point you have lost the single biggest opportunity to tell me about your brand and its promise. The guest has given you their details and asked: “Please tell me more.” All you’ve replied is: “We will tell you more soon.” What a wasted opportunity – no customer journey, no brand promise, no hospitality.

Back in the “real world”, when walking into Restaurant Brand A imagine being greeted by: “Hello, would you like to try our new pasta dish?” or “Hello, why don’t you give me your email so I can keep you up to date?” or simply “Hello”. Brands would never do this in real life, so why does it happen online?

In the “real world” we invest so much on the welcome. Those all-important first five seconds to sell the brand promise and set expectations. Online this is called “The Grunt Test”. If a caveman looked at your website for five seconds would they be able to grunt what it is you offer, how it would make their life better and what they need to do to buy?

Consider that for almost nine in ten people, the real “welcome” to your restaurant happens in the digital world. You can only get everything to work in harmony and truly deliver your brand promise when your entire business and teams realise the customer journey is the complete sum of all experiences.