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I am on a First Name Basis with Arby’s

Arby's Roast Beef SignWhat does a fast food restaurant and IT consulting have in common?  They are both businesses that rely on face to face communications and relationship building to help create loyalty and repeat business.  What can we learn from Arby’s that can help improve our relationships with customers?  And why Arby’s in particular? Isn’t Arby’s just a fast food chain?  That is what I thought, until I started noticing something very strange and exciting when visiting two Arby’s restaurants.

In 2010, I was working with a client in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  One of the most convenient eating establishments was Arby’s and I would eat there every two weeks or so.  I had the most unusual experience when I would visit; the order taker/cashier, Pearl, kept a pom-pom next to her register and waved it every time she greeted a new customer, always with a cheerful hello and a big smile.  The cheerfulness was contagious, and the restaurant was a very popular lunch spot.  I could not help smiling every time I visited.  Aside from the general nice feeling, the other thing that struck me was that they asked for my name.  When my food was ready, it was served to me by name.

Fast forward 6 months….I am in an Arby’s in a rural area of Maryland, and stop in for lunch.  Ms. M., the cashier, greets me with a big smile, takes my order, and asks for my name.  My food is served to me by name, just as in Harrisburg.  A month later, I eat there again, and have the same experience.  Another month goes by, and Ms. M. is calling me ‘Mr. Mark’ when I walk in the door.  Every time I eat there, I am referred to by name. Today Ms. M wasn’t there, but Candice greeted me with a big smile and cheerfulness, just like Pearl and Ms. M.  I actually go to Arby’s when I need a pick me up. And I don’t even eat roast beef.

What lessons can we learn from Arby’s that we can be applied to our consulting practice?  These three simple steps will go a long way in building strong relationships with you and your clients:

  • Always greet everyone you meet with a smile, even if you don’t know someone’s name.  Be cordial and polite, even with people you don’t work.  I am one of the shiest people you will meet, but I force myself to overcome this by smiling and saying hello to people.  Action cures fear.
  • Learn the names of the people with whom you work. This means everyone, from the C-level executives to the administrative assistants!  We are in the business of building long-term relationships.  The end-user that you are gathering requirements from today may be the manager or director you deal with several years from now.
  • Make your interactions memorable.  This does not mean take a pom-pom to your client site (in fact, I strongly discourage it), but you should take a good attitude.  When you call or visit your client years later, you don’t want them to say ‘Mark who?’.

There are many ways to build relationships, but these very simple ones, used very effectively by these two Arby’s, have proven to be effective in my practice.