Sliced Tomatoes

While vacationing, my wife and I had the occasion to dine at several restaurants that we have enjoyed over the years. Something happened at two of them that was somewhat of a surprise. Here’s what occurred. At the first restaurant we had been told by a nearby merchant that a particular dish was extremely good. Naturally we wanted to partake, only to be told by the waiter that this item was only available on the bar menu. I told him that we were willing to pay an upcharge if necessary in order to enjoy this seemingly delectable delight. No dice was his reply. He went on to spin a tale about how the kitchen was too small to serve both the bar and the dining room. The explanation was not remotely plausible.

We had enjoyed a scrumptious dinner at the second restaurant and were attended to by a very outgoing server. The entrée I selected had a side dish that I didn’t prefer and I asked if some sliced tomatoes could be substituted. This was done without issue and the service was impeccable. Roll the tape forward a week with a different server but the same entrée. Again, I asked for sliced tomatoes and was very abruptly informed that the chef was not going to accommodate my request. This server (a bit on the snippy side to begin with) said that there had been quite a conversation with the chef about such a substitution and he wasn’t going to slice any tomatoes.

In both situations, the desires of the customer were secondary to the desires of the restaurants. In both cases, I wrote social media reviews pointing out that the operational efficiencies of the eateries were apparently more important than offering a memorable customer experience. And as I thought about it more I realized how often this approach is taken by many businesses. But why?

We’re in the day and age of creating customer experiences. No longer is it just about selling a product or service. I’ve advocated for years that we should avoid “selling to” customers (product-centric) and help customers “buy from” (customer-centric). Helping people buy something provides us with an opportunity to create a more tailored and pleasant experience – something they might mention in a positive manner when speaking with friends and family . . . or posting on social media. Both restaurants failed the test. The food was so-so at the first establishment but truly amazing at the second. Yet, the wonderful cuisine was overshadowed by the negative experience of a chef who apparently was throwing a hissy fit for unknown reasons. I would have certainly understood if the tomatoes were of poor quality and that had been explained to me. And while the chef may have had a limited supply of tomatoes to be reserved for other dishes that included tomatoes, there is a fabulous modern day invention called a “grocery store.”

I eat breakfast regularly at a restaurant where the proprietor often makes a run to the nearby grocery store when she runs low on a particular food item. The last thing she wants to tell a customer is that she is out of something and can’t accommodate a request. The upshot of all of this is to pause for a moment and look at our own operations. Are there things we can do to make sure we are creating a positive customer experience? Do we have systems and processes that are designed to make our operations more efficient and profitable, but could potentially stand in the way of putting a smile on the customer’s face? Are we a slave to rigidity and adherence to a very precise “recipe?” Perhaps we should consider applying the “reasonableness test.” In other words, is the request of a customer reasonable or not? If it is, we should accommodate it to create the desired experience. If I had asked for Baked Alaska, that probably wouldn’t have passed the “reasonableness test.” But sliced tomatoes?

Entrepreneurs can differentiate themselves by working to create a memorable customer experience. This can be accomplished by developing a reasonableness test when it comes to customer requests.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 61 – The Zone of Doom.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Mind-Blowingly, Stunningly Epic!!

Unique. One-of-a-kind. Award-winning. Leader. State of the art. Cutting edge. Bleeding edge. Next generation. Revolutionary. Robust. Extraordinary. Legendary. Transformative. Groundbreaking. Best in class. Magical. Out of the box. Feature-rich. World class. Dynamic. Premier. Amazing. Iconic. I think you probably see where this is going.

Ah yes, the world of superlatives and puffed-up buzz words. As an entrepreneur, I want to persuade you that my product or service is the best thing since sliced bread – maybe even better! And thus I have a tendency to use embellishments to convey a certain sense of excitement that will emotionally influence you to buy what I’m peddling. Sometimes advertising and marketing that exaggerate are just plain fun. Dos Equis beer uses a spoof in its commercials of The Most Interesting Man in the World. Generally this sort of marketing is easily identifiable and the audience goes with the flow.

What we want to avoid is falling into the “salesmany” stereotype. When I hear entrepreneurs use terms like “crushing it” or “killing it,” I cringe. It’s one thing to extoll the virtues of our product or service, but when we cross over into too much puffery our credibility suffers. Is it possible that being more quiet and understated in our approach to marketing and sales could produce the results we seek?

Our customers don’t really give a whit whether or not we are “#1” or provide “world class service.” What they are interested in is how our product or service solves their problem or provides them with real value. Here are a couple of example marketing statements to compare.

Statement #1: “At XYZ Motors we sell more Kias than anyone else in the universe! We’re also number one in service and have won more awards from Kia than any other dealership in the country.”

Statement #2: “At XYZ Motors we are creative and will help figure out a way to put you in a new car that can fit comfortably within your budget. We are also pleased to keep our service department open every weeknight until 10:00 PM because we know that many customers can’t bring their car in until they get off from work.”

Obviously the first statement is full of backpatting and chest thumping. The focus is completely on the dealership. The second statement is customer-centric. Here, XYZ Motors shows great empathy for both the customer’s pocketbook and his or her busy schedule.

One of the reasons that businesses use hyperbole is because they haven’t figured out how to differentiate their product or service. This is especially true for companies that compete in the commodity space. Apparently they believe that yelling as loud as they can, will motivate customers to show up and shell out their hard-earned dollars to save a cent or two. And there’s no question that some people are inclined this way. But I think that most people aren’t thrilled to be insulted by such boorish and uninspired messaging. An alternative approach might be for the business to become much more creative in determining its value proposition and then develop a marketing campaign around the benefits to the customer.

Entrepreneurs must also be mindful of how different generations respond to marketing and salesmanship. But as political campaigns have become more and more over-the-top with either fluff or mudslinging, I think there’s a carryover impact on the business world. All consumers, regardless of generation, are more skeptical of dubious claims and mindless drivel. Instead they want facts and substance. They need real data that supports a marketing/sales pitch and explains the WIFM in plain English. And of course WIFM means “What’s in it for me?”

Laying out the case for how our product or service solves a problem for our customers can be done in an innovative fashion. And we don’t have to appear like a stereotypical pushy salesperson to do so.

 You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 25 – Confluences

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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