Tuesday November 5, 2013

3 Truths That Drive Customer Experience

picture of a chipotle mexican grill

The Fam and I went to Chipotle Mexican Grill on Sunday to grab a quick bite. I'm a fan of the food and the overall ethos of the company (non-gmo, free range meat, etc). Oh, and the barbacoa tacos are fantastic. 

Well, I left the family in the car while I took care of the ordering process. Quesadilla for the little one, burritos for the walkers/talkers and bowls for my wife and I. 

I get everything to our table and text my wife to let them know I'm ready for them. 

After distributing everything around the table and getting the kids settled (parents, you know what this is like), my wife finally pulls the foil lid off of her dish. 

(Meanwhile, it's also worth noting two things: 1)I'm starving and 2) it's now officially lunch rush and there's a long queue at the counter)

"Ohh, you ordered it with Rice?" 

Shoot. Right, Cara is grain free. Rice is a grain. 

So there's only one thing to do. I get back in line to buy a new bowl sans arroz. 

When I get to the counter, the gal says, "Back for more already?" "Ya," I replied. "I ordered my wife's with rice, but she can't eat rice," not hiding my exasperation. 

I process through the whole order: NO rice, mixed beans, "Can you add the grilled veggies", barbacoa, brown salsa, "can you add the corn salsa too?", Yes, sour cream and cheese, "Oh, a little bit of lettuce, ya that's perfect". 

I pull out my wallet and grab my card as the cashier ringed up my order. 

Before the gal could take my card, one of the guys behind the counter walks over and marks something on the bowl lid with a sharpie marker and says, "This one's on me." 

"That's very kind. Thanks!"

I get back to my table, but before I could start chowing down, I just had to acknowledge his kind deed with a facebook post. To my 1469 friends. 

It's a simple story, perhaps you have your own like it. I want to break it down a bit though, because these kinds of experiences don't just happen, and in aggragate they create huge lift for brands.

The element of surprise was key

Whether it was done intentionally or not, the reveal was done at the point of sale, not immediately when I shared my story. The mistake was not Chipotle's fault at all. I fully expected to pay for the replacement.

The experience would not have been as endearing if they immediately comp'd the meal when I told them what happened. I needed to hang on the fact that I deserved to pay for the food.

Secondly, I have no idea whether Chipotle trains people on this scenario or empowers their people to comp items at their discretion. It really doesn't matter though. There are plenty of businesses that coach to this, but their employees don't execute, because they don't get it. It's not hardwired in them. 

Customer experiences like this are created by people, supported by policy.

It's about the people you hire. The right person makes this kind of call, because it feels right or smart in their gut. The policies affirm the instincts the right employee already has, and grants permission.

Hiring for customer experience is a commitment, especially when you're staffing with entry-level people. It's definitely a different way of thinking. It means incorporating behavioral questions that identify this instinct, versus the standard skill-based, "Tell me about your experience" interviews that are so common in many front-line service jobs. 

Earnestness: That gut-level realization that every customer matters

As a brand grows, earnestness is one of the first things to go. In the early days, you're eager for my business, hungry. It's one of those major intangibles that leads to success. And of course at some point, without fanfare, it's gone. You're no longer hungry.

Earnestness is care for the lone customer. 

This Chipotle is located next to a 20k student university campus. They probably did $2000 during that lunch rush. I was probably one of a hundred or more tickets that afternoon. And I still mattered. That's earnestness, and it connects with us. 

We feel it, and it drives our purchasing behavior. 

Payoff: the law of reciprocity at work

Robert Cialdini, in his book Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion talks about the  social law of reciprocity. Here's a snippet from an interview he gave to Wobi.com:

"One of the first principles that we learn as citizens of our culture is the principle of reciprocation-I am obligated to give back to you the form of behavior that you first give to me. If you do me a favor, I owe you a favor. Very simply, people say yes, to those they owe. Every member of every culture has been trained to play by this rule- you must not take without giving in return." 


So what drove me to immediately share this experience on Facebook?(The payoff) I couldn't help myself. I needed to return the favor. We are all hardwired for that gut response. 

It really doesn't matter whether that guy strategically comp'd my meal, armed with an understanding of reciprocity, or if he did it because he was nice. It came across as earnestness, and I was compelled to reciprocate. 

Have you had an experience like this? What was your reaction? Did it influence your relationship to that company?  


Chris Nordyke is an integrated marketer and entrepreneur that helps companies grow using a unique consulting service approach that combines marketing strategy, brand/culture alignment, and customer experience fine-tuning.

Chris Nordyke is an integrated marketer and strategy consultant. He works with owners and senior business leaders to transform and grow service companies via a unique holistic approach that drives referral business and client retention. Click here to schedule a complimentary consult with Chris.

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