Creating The Experience

Are they buying a product, service, or … an experience?

Clyde's Tower Oaks Lodge, RockvilleThis Rockville, Md. restaurant is busy … even on the “slowest” night of the week

I’ve lived in the same area for nearly 38 years and had never known about a particular road in Rockville until Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge opened up. It’s completely off the beaten path and although located among office buildings, feels like a ski lodge tucked away in a vacation hotspot. The entrance to the property – a beautiful custom designed wooden archway that guides you onto the year-round porch from the complimentary valet parking stop – sets the tone. The well-manicured grounds are home to a pond complete with waterfall and misty fog. To enter the restaurant’s grand lobby, you pull on a custom-carved tree branch door handle. Opening off the lobby are several dining rooms and two spacious bars. This place has it all – consistently great food, knowledgeable service and a friendly atmosphere. The staff here truly creates a memorable experience; and the restaurant is always busy – even on Monday nights!

But you don’t have to spend millions of dollars, like the owners of Clyde’s have, to create a unique customer experience. Take, for example, one of my absolute favorite restaurants. Yoyogi, a small, sushi place, is just a 20-minute walk from my house. In fact, my friends who really loveYoyogi Yoyogi may be upset that I’m mentioning it, and thus promoting longer lines. It’s located on Main Street in The Kentlands – the “Mayberry” of my area –which is home to many small mom-and-pop-owned restaurants. None though, seem to be as consistently busy as Yoyogi. What’s its secret? I believe it’s consistency, friendliness and generosity. I’ve eaten at dozens of sushi restaurants and none compare to Yoyogi. It serves the most generous portions of the freshest sushi at incredibly reasonable prices – the owners even include green tea at no additional charge. The staff is friendly and on the ball. I’ve eaten there countless times and have never been disappointed. I believe consistency is the name of the game for any business.

Another great example is Chef Tony’s Restaurant (formerly Visions Restaurant) on St. Elmo Avenue in Bethesda. What makes Chef Tony’s unique? Chef Tony. He cooks excellent, unique dishes in an open kitchen and makes it a point of coming out from behind the counter to visit with his guests. Chef Tony also maintains a dynamic website and social media presence – unlike any restaurateur I’ve ever seen. He currently has more than 5,000 Twitter followers and thousands of YouTube views. By making himself highly visible, both in-person and online, Tony has created a personal brand for himself and thus a unique experience for his guests. By the way, I’ve eaten at Chef Tony’s dozens of times and the food is always delicious.

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Why good is no longer good enough
Have you noticed how many “good” businesses have gone belly up? Being good simply isn’t enough. Can you hear the conversation? “Yeah, they’re good … and so is Xyz Company down the street.”

What distinguishes one business from another; one individual from another? What makes you and your business remarkable? Companies that embrace the concept of consistently providing a remarkable experience are often able to thrive in any economy … as well they should. For some unique ideas and examples of how to deliver a memorable experience, I recommend reading the book, Secret Service: Hidden Systems That Deliver Unforgettable Service, by John DiJulius III.

Appeal to the client’s sixth sense
The sixth sense I’m referring to is your client’s unconscious awareness. Why do Starbucks patrons nationwide spend $5 for a cup of coffee? Because they’re buying an experience. The next time you visit Starbucks, take note of your experience, specifically the way the shop appeals to all your senses. Hear the milk steaming; admire the contemporary design and architecture; feel the textures of everything from the wooden tables to the corrugated cup sleeve; smell the aroma of fresh-ground beans; taste the piping hot, high-quality beverage of choice. Starbucks’ staffers are well-trained, knowledgeable and usually quite friendly. This chain, it seems, has cracked the code. Do they brew the finest coffee in all the land? That’s a matter of opinion, but one thing is for sure: They understand the importance of creating an experience and realize that people are willing to pay for that experience.

Can your clients describe their experience?

Most businesses have a list of testimonials that’s easily accessible to prospective clients (and if they don’t, they should). The best testimonial is one that describes an experience – not a list of generous and fluffy superlatives. When considering whether or not to do business with a person or company, we’re always trying to determine the same thing – what’s in it for me? Reading about what others have experienced (rather than the amazing adjectives) resonates with people. Watch a few TV commercials and you’ll see that millions of dollars in research money has proven this principle.

Consistency, consistency, consistency
For a great illustration of this concept, read The E Myth, Revisited by Michael Gerber. He tells of a barbershop that delivered good service, but with an inconsistent process and experience that he found unsettling. Thus, he decided not to return after his third visit. What I found interesting is that he worked to consciously notice what it was that was so unsettling that he couldn’t return as a patron. Most of us simply wouldn’t have taken the time for such introspection. This author was able to clearly articulate why inconsistency can kill your business. This is a big, big deal – so big, in fact, that I believe it to be a top reason for failure. A few companies that seem to have nailed the consistency factor are Costco, Starbucks, Nordstrom, and of course McDonald’s.

So take a close look at the type of experience you and your team are creating for your customers and clients. Is it remarkable? Are you distinguishing yourself? What’s the word on the street? How do your own people speak of your organization?

Your people will support what they help to create. If you’re interested in discovering more about “Creating the Experience” I’ll be glad to discuss delivering a workshop for you and your team. CLICK HERE

[Originally posted July ’09]


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