The combination of autopilot decision making and the desire to manage emotions to ensure a pleasant life makes Third Agers loyal. If their local Italian restaurant is associated with a pleasant experience. If they are experts in the script and it consistently delivers, why take it “off the list”. If the restaurant choice is of low salience this is even more the case, it is easier to remain loyal. If this is just a spur of the moment evening meal why go somewhere new? If the meal rises in salience and becomes a “special occasion” then trying somewhere different might become an idea. Alternatively, the Third Ager may already have a list of “special occasion” restaurants. For the Restaurant Owners “stealing” customers from other restaurants will be difficult. Keeping Third Age customers becomes especially important.
A memory of a positive script increases the chance of a positive emotional experience next time (See Newsletter #032) . It mitigates the chance of a negative one. A negative emotional experience is more likely to lead to removal from the consumers’ list. Operationally this puts even more pressure on the system to ensure that for older customers it delivers “right the first time”.
Service Failures are Endemic
Unfortunately, the very nature of services makes “right first time “ difficult. Failures are endemic to services of all sizes and forms. The complexity of the system that creates any service is high. Not only that, but vast sections of the operation are not visible to the customer but can still go wrong. There may be a power cut in the kitchen. Three kitchen staff members may be ill with COVID. None of this is visible to the customers upstairs. It is the Maître ‘D and the wait staff who bear the brunt of the complaints about delayed or worse, badly cooked, meals. Alternatively a too boisterous table of guests upstairs can sour the atmosphere of the restaurant. This ruins the appreciation of the well-prepared dishes coming up from the kitchen. The participation of the consumers in the production of their own service multiplies the complexity.
The waiters are not neutral in the service “play”. Their moods and attitudes can influence the satisfaction of the customers. Research has shown a direct relationship between the satisfaction of the staff and the satisfaction of the customer. What some researchers call “Climate for Service” can be key to the service delivered. This is an issue if the staff hold negative ageist stereotypes. Worse if they behave according to them. This adds yet more complexity to delivering a successfully service. It is commonly accepted that consistent successful delivery is a near impossibility.
Third Agers are More “Forgiving”
The good news is that older consumers are more likely to be satisfied (Newsletter #35). They cope with service failures better. They tend to see the positive in any situation and thus may not register a failure. If they are experts at this service process, they may have “seen it all before” and be more tolerant of the failure. Older customer are more likely to be able to take the firm’s or staff point of view. They can deal better with emotionally charged situations. They are better at diffusing them.
If the firm really fails an older consumer, then the stakes are higher. It must recover the situation. The first problem is to get the customer to complain when something goes wrong. Complaining can itself be an emotionally unpleasant experience. The easy way out for us consumers, is to not to complain. Instead we can leave, and drop the firm from our list of choices for the future. A defensive service provider is likely to have a much bigger impact on the older customer. Somehow the process of complaining must be made “pleasant”.
Bob Payton was the owner of The Chicago Pizza Pie Factory . This was a famous nineteen eighties London restaurant, . He would walk the floors of his restaurant watching for people who were unhappy. Did they send food back to the kitchen? He would ask “How was your meal?” If the response was “Fine”, or something as non-committal, he would pull up a chair. He would sit down and not leave until he had a better answer.
Assuming the restaurant gets past the point of getting the older customer to complain the next step is the recovery. There has been considerable research into what has become known as “service recovery”. It seems a situation well recovered can produce higher levels of customer satisfaction than doing the job right the first time! What can a firm do if things go wrong? Customers have a strong sense of “equity” and want to be treated fairly. They want to receive justice . Not charging for the course or providing a free dessert are standard tools of the restaurant trade.
It is worth it to keep a loyal Third Age (restaurant)customer.