The free flowing internal culture and external reputation of your establishment are extremely powerful steering forces, and pull considerable weight when customers consider visiting (and re-visiting) your venue. These unspoken and frequently underestimated elements exist in every hospitality venue (and other areas of the service industry) regardless of polarity (positive or negative), and change very slowly. Internal culture (held by staff) and external reputation (held in the opinion of your customers) is an influential component in the degree of success of your venture. Basically, the presence and polarity of these elements in your venue will make or break you – so it pays to invest time and effort into building a positive internal culture and external reputation.
The way in which customers and staff feel about, relate to and connect with your venue greatly contributes to its success – If your customers love what you offer, how you offer it, and attach positive feelings to your establishment, your external reputation will be greater than if the previous mentioned positives were reversed. If your staff love what they do and have a strong positive emotional attachment to your venue, they will share a strong internal culture which will only drive your venue towards greater success.
In another sense, the way in which your customers and staff perceive your venue in their emotional ‘stage’ is paramount to the success or failure of your business – if your customers see your venue as inexpensive and value-giving (and subsequently feel good about visiting your establishment); and your staff are committed to working hard and providing a great product (and feel good about working their shift), you’ll be in a far better position than if the previous mentioned aspects were reversed (in a negative polarity).
An important aspect to consider regarding the internal culture and external reputation of an establishment is the pace at which it changes, which is extremely slowly. If your venue is viewed and ‘thought of’ in a positive light, it will remain in such light for a considerable period of time. However if your venue has a negative internal culture or external reputation, this negative polarity will remain in play for equally as long (if not longer). It is difficult to reverse a negative culture or reputation.
To analyse this statement furthermore, this slow pace exists in both directions – if the culture and perception of your venue is viewed positively in your local sphere, it will remain in this manner for a substantial period of time. However, if your venue is viewed by your customers in a negative light (for example, as a dirty, messy or expensive venue, or one with rude and obnoxious staff), this negative perception will remain in existence for just as long as a positive one, if not longer. This will be bad for business, of course!
With this in mind, it’s wise to invest time and effort into fostering a positive internal culture and external reputation – and even though it won’t be immediately apparent, the effort you invest will prove itself worthy in the long run.
Basically, you want your customers to feel good things about your venue. You want your staff to do exactly the same. If they feel good things about your venue, they’ll say good things.
As I’ve mentioned above, the external reputation of your establishment, depending on its polarity, will either attract or repel potential and existing customers. If your potential and existing customers believe your venue to be clean, inexpensive, value-giving and possess warm, friendly and professional staff, then you are well on your way to fostering a positive external reputation. Your venue will be known as a great venue to visit (which is a good reputation to have). If your venue is well-known for the niche you have chosen to dominate, and is regarded as an industry thought-leader with mentionable staff, you are also well on your way to fostering a positive external reputation.
On the other hand, if you are known to be expensive (or don’t provide enough value for the prices you charge), poorly maintained or possess rude, unprofessional (or any other negative quality) staff, then chances are your venue won’t be successful as it could be. This brings about a negative external reputation, and your customers won’t want to visit you.
People are going to talk about your venue whether you like it or not – and this is the ‘talk’ you need to influence. You want people to say great things about your establishment. Aim to create a great positive reputation for your venue inside your local sphere.
So, how do you build a solid external reputation amongst your customers? Firstly, focus time on building a strong internal culture, which I will discuss below. Secondly, remember that your customers will criticize and judge your venue, whether they are conscious of it or not. As retaliation to this aspect of human nature, try and make every aspect of your venue impeccable: follow the three methods of thinking described in Part Three of this manual and make your atmosphere, offering and customer service elements of the highest quality.
It’s also wise to use external elements to create an association with positive feelings or emotions towards your venue, to help improve your external reputation. If you are a pub, associate yourself with prominent local beer brands, or significant sporting codes in your local area. Associate your venue with positive elements that your customers wish to be associated with. If you are a cocktail bar, associate yourself with premium spirit brands or mixers (but don’t overdo it, of course) or position yourself in a way that people will want to be seen at your establishment (people love to be seen at premium venues – it allows them to satisfy their basic psychological need to flaunt wealth or exclusivity). If you are a wine bar, do the same thing – associate yourself with a premium winery or Champagne house. Alternatively, associate yourself with the social elite and keep sports cars parked out front. Or, associate yourself with high profile DJs or other artists.
Use the power of association to invoke positive feelings in your customers. Associate yourself with people, brands or products that will invoke positive feelings (and therefore a great time) in the hearts and minds of your customers.
Also, an extremely desirable goal for you to achieve is for your customers to be positively ’emotionally connected’ to your establishment. I know this may sound like ‘mind control’, brainwashing or something not far from ‘neuro-linguistic programming’, but it occurs simply by creating the right atmosphere for your customers to have a great time. They’ll then associate your venue with a ‘great time’ – which will be beneficial for two reasons: they’ll boast about this ‘great time’ to their own networks (once again, this is word-of-mouth marketing) and secondarily they’ll return and re-return to your establishment (in the hope of re-feeling the ‘great’ feelings they felt last time) and will (hopefully…) spend more money across your bar.
Ultimately, try and foster a positive emotional connection between your customers and your establishment. Basically, all you need to do is consistently provide them with a ‘good time’ (the definition of ‘good time’ will be dependent on your venue and offering). When this occurs, your customers will wish to return to your venue to experience the same positive feelings over and over again.
Methods to improve your external reputation include:
- Build a strong internal culture,
- Make every ‘service dimension’ of your venue impeccable (see Part three),
- Use the power of association to bring positive feelings or emotions to your venue,
- Try to foster a strong positive emotional connection between your customers and your venue,
- Become a recognized thought leader or educator in your chosen niche,
- Gain publicity in articles in newspapers or magazines, or
- Identify the influencers amongst your VIP customers, and ‘schmooze’ them. Basically, offer them premium service so they talk to their own personal networks.
Use social media to gauge your online external reputation. Use social media to see what people are saying about your venue (and your staff, and your products… etc.).