Denny’s Journey to Customer-Centric Success: Insights from Fasika Melaku, VP & Chief Learning Officer
Denny’s interview transcribed from the State of CX Webinar with Fasika Melaku, VP and Chief Learning & Development Officer, Denny’s. To watch the full recording, click here.
Fasika Melaku, VP and Chief Learning & Development Officer at Denny’s—an American-favorite, family-friendly diner-style restaurant chain founded in Lakewood, California in 1953—shares her expert views on why embracing a customer-centric mindset has catapulted the Denny’s brand to the forefront of their segment.
For seven years, Fasika has been an integral part of Denny’s leadership team. Her dedication to the brand resonates with their core values: prioritizing staff and customers, focusing on performance, and supporting operations to boost customer and employee satisfaction and thus revenue growth.
See what she has to say:
The Denny’s Promise
“There’s no question of the guest experience we’re looking for. We’re a family-friendly diner with a passion for people. We just want to know what our guests think about it.
Anyone leading a team at Denny’s, we’ve always known the guest is king. And we’ve always known the importance of knowing what guest needs are and being in tempo with that. Through the pandemic, we recognized that uniting as an organization would be more critical than ever to make sure Denny’s brand reputation remained intact.”
The Catalyst for Change
“We were using a different solution at the beginning of the pandemic and it just wasn’t doing what we needed it to. We knew the reviews were moving fast, the guest sentiment was all over the place, and operational policies were changing by the day. We had to have a way to consolidate that information and see it in an easy-to-understand way.
Your team helped us bring forward that insight and tangible ways that can not only inform the organization and leadership team as we’re making decisions but also take it directly to the bottom line and the teams servicing our guests. We just saw it as an incredible need and realized we have to get in tune with our guests to gain back control of the situation.”
Operationalizing Guest Insights
“To make change, you need to have your organization united. And it starts by making the data digestible for the audience. How can we get the GM [general manager] to see the connection between the guest and the team and the sales and profits? How could the reports, the systems, and the processes work in our culture every day with our operators? And GuestXM did a fantastic job delivering on that.
We’re about 90% franchised, so it takes a lot of levers and audiences to bring everyone together. We couldn’t stay open 24 hours early on in the pandemic. There were curfews in certain regions. That changed who we were for late-night traffic. The guest insights let us know that was our space to own. When we cross-referenced the data with sales and traffic, guests were telling us, ‘Where you are open, we see better value.’”
What I think was a rallying cry for us was how much the entire team collectively, from the support center to the field to the owners, gravitated toward this information. This is what happens when you see success from a profit perspective, from a team’s perspective, and a guest’s perspective. And that clarity brought focus to us. Accountability and success only grow from there with a clear understanding of what progress is needed and what progress has been made. We knew we had to hit home with what the guest needed. Now we own that late night.”
“We have to make sure our reporting, systems, and processes are ingrained in our brand’s DNA and speak our language. I’ll never forget how when we first started with you, our overall net sentiment was 21.9! Today, we’re sitting at 36.2. That’s a testament to the programming and conversations we built where internally we could drill down and help our team take action.
It’s at the restaurant level that people take action. The owners and multi-unit managers help make it happen and are accountable for it, but operators have to help support what that looks like. We knew we needed data to serve each audience: operations, management, BOH [back of the house], etc. How does everyone understand the purpose of this, and our clear why, It was connecting the dots that we think helped drive the increase in our score.
The missing link for a lot of operators: many platforms can give you the data—like where you sit within the market, what your teams are saying—but what can I do with that? One of the things we took away at Denny’s: keep them focused on the top three things to improve. For example, every coffee cup must be full. And our beverage scores improved. We first broke down the issue for the operators, then with GuestXM we were able to provide the right view of how to look at the data. And then we drove that point home, consistently. This is an everyday thing. How do we talk about the guest, how do we look at guest data, and how do we get granular to ensure our teams are making it happen? This initiative is never done.”
Click here to watch the State of CX Webinar with Fasika Melaku, VP and Chief Learning & Development Officer, at Denny’s.