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Like many college students, one of Trendlines' founding partners, Steve Rhodes, made extra money waiting on tables. His first introduction to the world of waiting tables was a harsh one — a "tips only" system. Steve quickly learned that you do a great job, or you go home empty handed.

But just what has waiting tables got to do with good marketing? Lots, according to Steve. Earning your livelihood from tips teaches you to market, sell and give good service. Here's what good waiters know and marketers should focus on:

Nice to See You Again, Mr. Jones

Do you know what your customers want? Have you established a one-to-one relationship with them which enables you to understand what your customers want and tailor your services accordingly? Could you identify them as being "burgers and chips" or "filet mignon" customers? Are they budget-conscious "just marrieds" who usually opt for the special because it's a better value? Or are they aging baby-boomers who can afford steak and all the trimmings. Determining your customers' likes, dislikes, preferences and needs is key in satisfying your customer. In the 1:1 future envisaged by Martha Rogers and Don Peppers, it's not what you know about all your customers that's important, but how much you know about each of your customers that will count.

And What Would You Like for Dessert?

Fast-food restaurateurs have one purpose in mind: to sell as many burgers, pizzas, fries as they can to as many people as possible. That's traditional mass marketing at its best. One-to-one marketers, however, are trying to sell a single customer as many products as possible, over a long period of time and across different product lines. Picture yourself as a fine French restaurant with a select target clientele. In order to cultivate a long-term relationship with your customer, you have to understand her needs, and offer her similar products or services that you believe she would enjoy, based on the information you've gathered during the course of the relationship. Cross-sell: offer her the other products and services on your "menu" that you believe she would enjoy. "More wine?"

Waiter, There's a Fly in My Soup!

Quite often, the only time you hear from your customer is when he is unhappy. This represents an ideal opportunity for you to turn a negative into a positive by actively listening to his complaint and resolving it as best you can. We've all heard the statistics about how unhappy customers on average tell nine other people about their bad experience. Fourteen percent of brand switchers leave their brand because of complaints that aren't handled satisfactorily. It pays for you to do everything you can to resolve your customers' complaints quickly, efficiently and to their full satisfaction. "Sorry for the long wait. Please enjoy this glass of champagne on the house."

Was that Two Burgers and Three Fries, or Three Burgers and Two Fries?

Ever been waited on by a waiter who handed you the menu and then seemed to dematerialize? Or one who consistently muddled the orders, forgot the Sprite and brought the burger without the spicy pickles. Have you ever had to wait so long for your order to come that you gobbled the bread rolls, sluiced them down with water and completely lost your appetite? Bad service happens far more frequently than we'd like. Listening carefully to customers and giving them what they expect is key to maintaining trust in the relationship. Customers experience extreme frustration when they make their needs clear, by placing an order for a specific product or service, and not receiving what they paid for.

If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen

The special has run out, there's one waiter short and you just spilled water all over the table. Do you panic? Hand the boss your apron and head for the door? Or, take a deep breath, keep calm and do what needs to be done? Remaining calm in a crisis isn't a skill you can practice. But you can talk to the client in a calm and reassuring manner even if your insides are in an uproar. You can brainstorm with colleagues as to the best way to handle the situation. Of course, this wouldn't be necessary if you have contingency plans in place. There's no use screaming "Where's the fire extinguisher?!" when the Crepes Suzette go up in smoke. Act quickly and decisively. Your customers need to know that you're working to resolve the problem as best you can.

Cultivate Your Valued Customers

Some customers have more value than others: the Pareto Principle tells us that 80% of any company's business comes from 20% of its customers. Percentages might vary according to industry, but in every business there are differences among customers that makes some of them more valuable than others. Differentiating your best customers, pampering and rewarding them will pay dividends. Your best customers are most likely to refer you to others. If they are happy with your products or services they will tell their friends and families about your company.

Service with a Smile

Make the customers feel like they are your only customer. Making your customers feel like you're giving them the very best service you can — that they are your first priority, is something you have to endeavor to achieve, no matter how busy you are. They may not be your most important customer, or produce the largest revenues, but while you're dealing with them, you need to give them 100% of your attention.

Did You Enjoy Your meal? Come Again Soon

Keeping your customers satisfied means paying constant attention to their needs. Keep their water glasses constantly filled in order to remind them that you're there and "at their service." Find ways to keep "refilling your customers' glasses," by sending out regular mailings, such as vouchers with discount offers, sending catalogs of your latest products. Keeping in front of your customers is an important part of your ongoing marketing efforts to sell more to each and every customer.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding as they say, and we're told that Steve was a very good waiter who consistently earned higher tips than his colleagues.

Editor's Note:This article was first published on www.trendlines.com, an international marketing and business development site. Published with permission of Trendlines International Ltd.

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