Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Seated at the Window

"Is it open?" my daughter asked when we found it. 

It was a particular restaurant my wife had read a good review about.  A glance through the windows revealed a number of set tables, but no one inside.  This was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of take-out and counter places one block over.  My family hesitated to walk in.

"Well," I said, "The sign says it's open from 11:00 to 11:00.  Let's go in."

We gathered at the entrance and waited for a man in the far corner to notice us and offer seating.  He was hunched over a newspaper muttering to himself.

"Excuse me," my wife half-shouted.  "Are you open?"

Startled, he sprang to his feet.  "Yes, yes, we're open," he said in heavily accented English.  "How many in party?"

"Party of four," I answered.

"Here, sit by window," the waiter said, direcing us to the one table where everyone could look out the window.

We were the only people in the restaurant, which doesn't usually bode well.  "The locals are supposed to frequent this restaurant," my wife said.  "I guess there's all still shopping."

"It's four in the afternoon," my oldest daughter pointed out.  "It's too late for lunch and too early for dinner.  That's why no one's here."

Whatever the reason for the scarcity of clientele, the food was excellent.  As I watched people pass by on the sidewalk, I asked my family, "Why do you think he seated us by the window?"

"Is this another one of your dumb jokes?" asked my youngest.  Everyone looked at me accusingly.

"No seriously," I said, "Why are we seated at the window?  It's not that the waiter was being nice."

Clearly no one was going to reply, so I answered my own question.  "It's to make the restaurant look like there's people here.  Seeing people in the window draws others."

They got it.  They remembered the hesitancy they felt when we walked up to an empty restaurant.  For most people, the only thing worse than a restaurant with long lines is a restaurant with empty tables.  We all tend to be herd-like or tribe-like.  Most people don't want to be the first to try something.  It's why we prefer to patronize popular businesses or seek companies that have been highly recommended.  Absent the good review and we may not have walked through the doors of the empty restaurant.  The waiter knew this.  He knew that people drew more people, which is why we were seated at the window.

So what about your business?  How can you seat people at the window?  How can you seat people at the window if your business doesn't really have a window?

Here are three ways to "seat people at the window" of your business:

  1. Include lots of customer testimonials on your website.  It's amazing to me how many times I walk into a contractor's business and see glowing testimonials framed on the wall.  These are often inspirational to read and suggest this is the type of company anyone would want to do business with.  So why aren't they on the website where other potential customers might read them?  Why aren't they seated in the window?

  2. Use yard signs.  Don't limit the use of yard signs to major jobs.  Use them on every service call.  A growing number of companies are following the lead of Hal Smith from Halco in Rochester, NY and are "paying people" to rent their yards for a month after every service call.  At the conclusion of the call, the Halco plumber or technician asks the homeowner if he would like to take another $10 off the final invoice by renting his yard for a month.  The plumber then explains to the curious homeowner that he can save another $10 by allow Halco to leave a yard sign in his yard for a month.  If the homeowner agrees, the plumber earns a $5 spiff.  Most do.  For $18 a customer ($10 discount + $5 spiff + $3 disposable yard sign), Halco is seating people at the window.

  3. Create a Facebook fan page for your company.  When your customers become fans of your Facebook page, they are seating themselves at the window of your company.  Encourage Facebook fans by making special offers and providing unique news to your company's Facebook fans.
Seat people at the window.

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