Five words a customer wants to hear: HINT: It's not, "Who Is Next in Line?"

Customers may rave about your products. They may love your prices. They visit because you're the closest to their seats. However, all these can be matched by a competitor on the next concourse. What's harder to replicate is HOW you treat these guests. Do you show them “We Love You.”? Do you say, “Thank you for Choosing Us.”?

Take, for example, a typical concession-stand setting. Nearing the counter, we may hear: “Next! What can I get you?” At the pick-up window, it'd be: “#46. Your order is ready.” Or “I've got a DOUBLE CHEESE with FRIES for #92.”

Some places try to sound more personal, so their manual might instruct staff to ask, “Can I have a name for the order?”. There, we hear calls like “Large Coffee for Bill!”, or “Small Curly Fries for Jane”, etc. to announce drinks and food are ready. 

It sounds friendlier, but is it really?

Often, the worker only wants a name for announcing an order is ready. They call out, set the drink on the counter, and turn away to begin the next, often before Bill or Jane even claims it. Inquiring of their name may get asked as an indirect query: “What's a good name for the order?” vs. actually smiling and directly asking so. There is little interest in making any real connection.

Staff see their job being done when a drink gets made. Their duty might be as 'drinks-maker', and so, technically, they've fulfilled their responsibility as per their job description. Their task-list reads: “Make drinks as ordered. Announce and set on counter. Proceed to next“. The staff are simply a production line crew fulfilling orders as they appear on a nearby display. As a result, the focus and KPIs are around productivity, and less on personally connecting with their guest(s). They make the drinks ordered, but there is little interest in who they are for. It is service, but it is not hospitality.

In a QSR format, there may be only two opportunities to connect with a customer: 1) When ordering, and 2) When picking up. Now, with mobile ordering, the former can be eliminated, too, leaving “at pickup” as the only place to offer a human touch. Yet, when staff doesn't take time to acknowledge for whom they made the drink, nor hand the order directly to them with a smile and a genuine “Thank you”, it is a lost chance. The worker has an opportunity to positively impact the guest's relationship to their brand in a warm and personal way, and that chance is left wanting. 


A 2018 study by PWC found “64% of U.S. Consumers (…) feel companies have lost touch with the human element of the customer experience”. It revealed “helpful employees and friendly service matter, (with) each hitting over 70% in importance. and 82% of U.S (..) consumers want more of it in the future”. In a phrase: Human interaction matters.

The study importantly pointed out two areas of opportunity:

  • Missing Delivery
    • Only 49% of U.S. consumers say companies provide a good customer experience.
    • 54% of U.S. consumers say customer experience at most companies needs improvement.
  • The Financial Impact of (not) making guests “feel heard, seen, and appreciated”
    • 42% would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience, and (customers) would pay up to a 16% price premium on products and services (if so).
    • 59% of customers would walk away after several bad experiences, and 17% would do so after just one bad experience. 

Now this data is four years old, but I opine that the craving for personal connection hasn't diminished since, and, if anything, with isolation and social distancing during Covid, the thirst has probably increased.

So what do we need to do differently? 

Simply put, businesses must make an effort to connect with their guests, whenever and wherever possible. While it mustn't come at the expense of efficiency and speed (You can hear Bill mumbling, “I just ordered a drip-coffee. It shouldn't take 10 minutes!”), it remains important to remember customers have options. 

Competitors can offer a similar product line-up, and these guests standing at your counter have other places where they can spend their money. 

Businesses need to be looking for ways to accommodate a more friendly and welcoming level of service, and front-line teams need to make a more sincere and heartfelt connection to guests. 

In a word: Hospitality. 

It is not about telling those in line: “who's next?”, but rather “Thank you for choosing us.” The more times a customer is hearing that, the more times they are likely to say, “I will”.