Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Attitude (and Amplitude) of Gratitude

I still have "Surprise and Delight on the brain" today.  I mentioned Neiman Marcus' attempt in my last post and totally forgot to bring up my post about Oprah last month.  Truthfully, maybe Oprah's efforts are better described as "Shock and Awe" but in a good way.  If she had done small gestures, she would have been criticized for being cheap.

The fact of the matter is that when you do something wholly unexpected, people notice.  And they tell other people about it.  The item that inspired my last post would never have been written had it not been for the extraordinarily subtle, yet effective, gestures from the Buick salesman.  And I still believe they were kind though many of you may think otherwise.

With all this chatting about "Surprise and Delight" that I do, many of you probably think I am obsessed with this notion.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  My thinking is that there are oodles of ways to do one small thing effectively that do not require a rocket scientist's knowledge.

Saying "Thank You" is one example.  It's a small thing that people remember especially when it's unexpected.  It's an acknowledgement of time, money, effort, thought, resources, people and whatever was offered.

Case in point: Amir and I went to Fleming's.  Though we had a reservation, we were seated 40 minutes late.  And they wanted to seat us in the bar instead of the dining room.  We changed our table and I will admit to having not very loving thoughts to neither the downstairs nor upstairs hosts but I was polite.  The server was knowledgeable, the steaks were good and dessert was comped because of the wait (that was a good gesture).

We left agreeing that while we enjoyed the meal, a return trip wasn't a "must do" in the near future (which tells you how strong first impressions are and how important they can be as a predictor of a return visit).  The next day, Amir got this in an email:

I will admit to you that we did not see this coming.  Yes, jaded and cynical as we are, this was not anything that we were expecting.  And maybe it's because we are so used to bad service (see herehere and here) that what should be rote is actually distinctive.  And the sad thing is that this was distinctive.

It shouldn't have been.  At the very least, everyone should be extending some sort of Thank You gesture in the best way they know how and in the best way they can.  This is because we've all read the data that correlates business performance with customer service.  If X, then Y.

As for the note itself, my Fleming's friends didn't call us out by name but I don't think they needed to either.    Why?  Because they thanked me for choosing to dine with them and that they hoped that I would think of them again.  That's very powerful.  It's recognition that my dining dollars can go anywhere.  It's recognition that they serve us at our pleasure and not that we are obligated to do business with them.  It's recognition that if enough of us don't do business with them, they will cease to exist.

Which is why the Buick salesman's actions were compelling.  The salesman knew, unlike his Cadillac peer, that customers still have power.  He knew that the dealership doesn't exist without a customer base.  He knew that he can't "keep the lights on" if he displays behaviors that repel instead of attract.

Again, what should have been rote is distinctive.  And the sad thing is that this was distinctive.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


  1. Parissa:

    Nice touch, but how about they raise a free glass of wine on your next visit. Given what you and Amir spent minus food costs, Fleming's probably made some nice margin, thus would really have gotten some buzz if their thank you incented you to come back. The OMG factor has a huge window of opportunity in the foodservice industry.

  2. Hi Jim,

    I agree that an OMG factor would really be a great loyalty tool. I often think of the funny routine of the Cheers bar when everyone shouted "Norm!" as he walked in. That was television but having something like that in real life would be great.

  3. You know, the guy at the Metra coffee stand knows all his regulars by name and is engaged in conversation with them from the minute they enter the door. And the coffee smells great every time I go past.
    How many more reasons do I need to stop brewing at home and become a customer? Contrast this to the other station's coffee shop, where buyers are lined up waiting to pay, without anything but the basic chit-chat.
    Both occupy a niche location and so have a steady customer base. Will the email really make you go back to Fleming's, or just offset the bad experience to put them in a neutral light?

  4. I think the coffee and Fleming's examples are somewhat apples and oranges exactly for that "niche" location of which you spoke.

    The Fleming's email tempered my impression of them only but perhaps had I not had the weird 1st impression of them, I'd be more inclined to go back. Who knows? It just truly shows, as I indicated, how strong and memorable a good or bad 1st impression can be.