Six Sigma and more: Making money

David SchwinnAfter a frustrating restaurant experience, David Schwinn attributes poor customer service to a failure to see opportunities for improvement.

I think most of us know there is a lot of room for improvement in most of our systems, but this story is a beauty!

My wife, Carole, and I decided to get out of town to get warm over my recent spring break. While at our destination, Carole decided to look on the Internet for a restaurant that was new to us, had a great view, and a great reputation for food and service. Carole, always value conscious, also thought it would be good if the restaurant honored discounts. She found such a restaurant.

She then went online and got a $50 coupon for dinner! Next, she attempted to get a reservation. She could not make reservations at TripAdvisor, Yelp, Open Table, by phoning the restaurant, or even on the restaurant’s own website.  She finally got through by calling the front desk of the hotel in which the restaurant was located and asked to be connected to the bar. The people at the bar put Carole on hold so that they could check to see if we would be allowed to dine at the restaurant. The bar folks took our reservation. We got there early at 6:30 and the place was practically empty. We did get a table with an excellent view. We thought that it would perhaps fill up later. It did not. We decided that maybe there was some kind of glitch in the reservations system and decided to let the management know in an attempt to be good quality professionals.

We saw a young woman who seemed to be wandering around and asked her if she was the manager. She was quick to reply that she was not the manager. She was only a supervisor who was the acting manager that evening. We explained how difficult it was to get a reservation and she just as quickly as before explained that was their policy. Their intent was to make sure that there were always available tables in case any of the hotel residents wanted a table at the last minute. At that point, about half the tables were empty in the middle of the busiest time for dinner.

Dr. Deming used to say, “Some people don’t want to make money.” I suspect someone in the management system felt that way…or maybe was just clueless. Just to check if we ran into an out-of-control situation, we searched for and found some other online comments about the restaurant:

Service was very good. HOWEVER, I had been given a gift card for [the restaurant] from coworkers, and when I tried to use the gift card to pay gratuities, I was told I could not. Gift cards at any other restaurant I have been to are the same as cash. I was also not able to use this with a Restaurant.com certificate. Again, a gift card should be the same as cash.

This restaurant refuses to return calls, and has no menu on its website. I went to Open Table.com to make a reservation. I wanted reservations for dinner, but they are not open for dinner or were full for just about any day. I made reservations for their brunch at 11:00 am. When I got there, I found out brunch stops serving at 11:00 am. Never heard of a Sunday brunch closing at 11:00. I had breakfast, which was just OK.

Management is sometimes unprofessional as they have already twice canceled reservations on me.

My immediate reaction to all this was to think that it would be easy to reduce the variation around the number of people eating there, and thereby increase sales, by reducing the number of empty tables while making sure that no hotel guest is turned down when they request a table. Great opportunity for Six Sigma.

But I think there is a bigger message here. Six Sigma is a brilliant approach to improving marketing. Their perhaps-unconscious policy of suboptimising among the pricing, promotion, accessibility, and customer service functions reminded me that there is an opportunity within most of our organizations to take on projects that cross departmental boundaries. I’m sure some of you already use Six Sigma in your marketing and in whole organizational efforts. I’d love to hear about them. If you do not, I suggest there are great opportunities in those areas. I hope the opportunities at your organization are not as rich as those at our empty restaurant.

As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.