Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Where's the Mahi? (h/t Clara Peller)

Remember this goodie from about 25 years ago?

Now that I've successfully aged myself, you may wonder why i've chosen to take a stroll down memory lane.  Well, I've recently had two dining experiences that left me wondering something similar to that famous "Where's the beef?" line in the commercial:
  • I ordered a salad for lunch one day...  Its selling point beyond the artichokes and the feta was the toasted pine nuts.  I had a hankering for them but when the salad was presented, they were switched out for walnuts without a "heads up" from the server.  I was bummed and wished I had ordered the other salad that caught my eye.
  • On Monday, I ordered cioppino for dinner.  I was excited for the mussels, scallop and mahi.  Instead of mahi, there were clams again without a "heads up" from the server.  I'm not a fan of clams.  I was bummed and my overall impression of the place was kind of muted.
In the grand scheme of things, walnuts for pine nuts and clams for mahi are not punishable offenses of any sort.  But there were a couple of items that these seemingly innocent switches didn't consider and actually apply to any product though I bring this up in relation to dishes at restaurants.

One such item is the overall perceived value of the product by the customer.  We know that all businesses (theoretically) manage their margins and consequently know how much each item delivers net of expenses.  But what of the customer?  When a customer selects a salad, a widget, a shirt or anything for that matter, there's a certain overall value he/she assigns because of the features/benefits beyond the actual price of the product.  There's a certain level of utility and/or enjoyment value that gets assigned as well.

Now, it would be wrong for me to suggest we become mind readers and know that a customer values pine nuts more than feta cheese and the pine nuts drove the order.  That's not the point.  I am suggesting that we consider that an innocent switch (in our minds) may actually be a deal breaker in the mind of the customer.

In the case of the walnuts, what if I hated them and would not have ordered the salad if I saw the word walnut in the description?  We can't make the assumption that a switch of one item for the other is a thing of perfect indifference for the customer.  We have to appreciate and respect the possibility of utility and/or enjoyment value assigned to the item.

The other item is customer opportunity cost.  What I mean here is that because the utility or enjoyment value may be diminished, a customer can't help but think about the option he/she sacrificed.  It would be natural to wonder if the other item (in my case) was tastier, if it worked better, fit better or what have you.

It would also be natural to wonder if he/she should have gone elsewhere to make a product selection.  Would they have been more honest, have better quality products, be more attuned to my needs, apprised me of product modification?  In other words, the customer starts second guessing their decision in selecting us as a product/service provider.  Disastrous!

Back to that Wendy's commercial.  That hilarious 30 second spot covered both utility/enjoyment value as well as opportunity cost.  Let's hope no one ever builds a campaign about how we give customers short shrift!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


  1. There's so many examples of this Parissa that it's hard to believe that we actually continue to be guilty of these types of errors... it's almost like a bait n switch! Here's to hoping we always put the customer/ the UI/ the first impression/ the step-back-n-review/ the big picture first. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Thank you - I don't think we can rid ourselves of being human (and therefore, flawed) but we can do a better job of 3D thinking where possible.