We don’t Believe the Customer Comes First

WbWILCOXWORLD_narrowweb__300x294,0 The food comes first. This is part of the philosophy statement I found on the Website of a cafe' I went to recently.

Irony or ironies, although I don't think the statement was intended literally, it was quite clear that the staff believed it in the way it behaved.

A half dozen of us stood outside waiting in one of the coldest New York mornings this past week, while at the staff could see us standing there. They finally opened the doors at 8am, on the dot.

Once inside, the staff's attitude was perfectly aligned — they kept going about their fodd business without paying too much attention to us, the customers.

You cannot sit there, one waitress told me, here's a small table for you and your friend. We're going to be busy, she said. Two people sat in that booth a moment later, buying only coffee, and nobody bothered them.

The food was great, and you do pay more for it than in another place. The service continued to be "meh". So I do wonder if it's expected that people leave smaller or no tips? There's a happy medium between scrolling down carpets and not showing even a little interest.

This observation led me to think that not everyone must realize we're in a service economy. Yes, even when you make tangible stuff. And performance is service, too. 

Performance as service

When we discussed designing the customer experience as a differentiating factor, we didn't get into the conversation around performance as service specifically. Yet, it is a big part of the equation.

I also believe that the untapped capacity to create significance (and all the stuff that follows on from it — higher purpose, a sense of meaning, animating passion, intrinsic motivation) has never been more important, as Haque puts it.

Doing the opposite can be a good thing, if it has a purpose. Looking at worst practices instead of benchmarking against the best stuff, for example, could yield amazing insights. And so usually does having a plan.

If there was a bigger plan at the cafe', it was not obvious to me. After more than one hour there, several tables were still empty, despite the assurances from the waitress that they would get really busy. Not being a regular, I could not tell you if it was an indication of an unusually slow day. I can tell you it set a different kind of expectation for me though — the food was the (only?) reason to go there.

What would performance as service look like in your organization?


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0 responses to “We don’t Believe the Customer Comes First”

  1. From the standpoint of customer experience design, it would appear this cafe is doing a lot of things right.
    They have set an expectation both with their communications (the website) and their performance (service/goods delivery). They are focusing on their core business to meet customer expectations and create a perceived value.
    Whether or not they’re successful in creating that perceived value is another story. It’s obvious that an added element of great service would go a long way to increase it.

  2. Performance is indeed service! Providing great service (even better if it is with a smile) is what can set you apart from your competition. With so many great tangible products available, customer service can often set you part.
    Not to mention, in many lines of work, for example public speaking, acting etc., performance is the service. A bad performance means you have not delivered and will likely lose a client.
    Of course different industries will put different value on customer service, but I’ve always found it to be essential to any business.
    Maybe next time you’ll choose another cafe? Or maybe the food really was good enough to overlook the service?

  3. I’m trying to balance between your example and your question. I think the example is exactly what I’m struggling with in how Steve Jobs answers emails with “yep” and “nope,” but not really engaging the customer. What’s the point? There is a hot dog stand in Chicago called Hot Doug’s. The owner went to the CIA, has impeccable training, and decided he wanted to open a hot dog stand. And man is it good! People wait for two hours to get hot dog and some duck fat fries. And, once inside, you’re treated like you are at a hot dog stand. It works and he prints money. But the food is far better than the service and the service, well, is fun. Perhaps that’s the difference in your experience. If the food truly is the experience, match the service to what people are getting. Because if the food is superb and the service blah, it’s doubtful people will go back.
    I guess I say all of this to say…the customer experience is about everything from the food and service to the cleanliness of the bathrooms and where you can be seated. If it all matches, it doesn’t matter if it’s not all superb.

  4. I often get into the discussion with people on whether I’d rather have superb service or superb food at a restaurant, if I could only have one. I will always take superb service, because bad service can ruin my night. And I am a *huge* lover of food. I just love good service more. Many restaurants think they can get away with only providing amazing food, in much the same way as other companies feel they only have to provide the coolest software or the best product. In today’s world, you have to do both. People are are choosing where to spend their precious dollars. Customer experience matters, beginning to end. And customers have long memories.

  5. Where do I start on this? I believe a big issue is hiring people who aren’t service-oriented to begin with and then not having service as a standard or expectation, as you pointed out here. The experience is everything, as Gini says, and like it or not, every person is responsible for it. I hope the food was good. 🙂

  6. “This observation led me to think that not everyone must realize we’re in a service economy. Yes, even when you make tangible stuff. And performance is service, too.”
    Not realize or simply not agree with you?
    Time will tell if there is a market for those who honor the food above the consumer.
    And that market need only be big enough so that they can continue to practice their art. (Perhaps they even pay their staff well rather than expect the customer to subsidize their overheads through tips).
    In any event, is the food not the service? From a commercial perspective if the food is great, the biggest mistake the front of house made was to be noticed and remembered.
    Conversely, if the food is “meh” all you’ve got is front of house service.
    Though, ironically I’d probably go back for really bad service – It’s then about a different experience.
    For me, we’re in life not an economy. Honor the the food, the customer, the suppliers, the front of house and the back of house and the company we keep and life is a truly remarkable experience.

  7. Surprisingly, there are many ways to succeed in business.
    What I’m wondering is why, since this obviously was of interest, you didn’t take the time to talk to the owner/operator and report on this in a more illuminated way?
    …instead of guessing about them.

  8. @Tim – they are in the service business, and in a public way, too.
    @Lisa – good thoughts on the arts and performance. I should do more thinking along the lines of what I learned spending time in that environment. Indeed, would I choose the same place? Even better, would I take someone there?
    @Patrick – I think it can be both.
    @Gini – in your example, the service is organized to be a specific kind of experience. You expect it. People talk about it, bring others with them. It’s what makes the hot dogs better tasting in addition to the special way they are made/sauces, etc. The whole package deal. I would not describe the service I received horrible, it was coming from lack of interest… the experience is everything, yes.
    @Jen – going out for many ends up being a social occasion; a special evening or celebration, meeting someone for business, or an old friend, getting together as a group, etc. I waited tables for many years during high school, and there are no tips in Italy, just low pay, I know it’s hard work and people can be demanding… they come back when they feel welcomed.
    @Jeannie – the food was good. And yes, attitude makes up for so much in service.
    @Peter – getting out of the way would have been a better experience. There are plenty of really good places in Italy where that is the case. You’re on your own, mostly, get what you order efficiently. Then again, you also are not expected to leave tips. Expectations need to change somewhere along the line in your scenario, I think. We are in life.
    @Robert – note how I omitted the name of the place. Is this really about the specific cafe’, or am I making a point? Also, note how you assume I didn’t take the time… walk the talk on “illuminated”.

  9. I like this idea:
    “Doing the opposite can be a good thing, if it has a purpose. Looking at worst practices instead of benchmarking against the best stuff, for example, could yield amazing insights.”
    That would be a great topic for another post!
    I think the main issue is, “Does the perceived value outweigh the hassles, service issues, etc…?” I think that’s what it comes down to in any business – “Do I have the time/energy/resources to make a – hopefully – better choice?”

  10. @Veronika – you got it. We’re in it for the learning, you and I. My answer to that question is I always do. I make it a point to support businesses that care at every interaction. Why I am modest in my consumption 😉

  11. The article asks a crucial question, “What would performance as service look like in your organisation?”
    I would encourage an organisation to ask itself a second equally as important question, “What would service look like as a product in your organisation?”
    Let me explain.
    When I studied marketing 15 years ago the professor informed me about the 4 P’s (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) and added ‘ and if you feel like it you can add an S for service’.
    Since then service has gone from a possible, to a competitive advantage, and from a competitive advantage to a must (although like your article shows some people/organisations are not yet at the ‘must have’ phase).
    My question refers to an interesting trend we have observed at this fluid world where products are increasingly becoming services, meaning that services can also be a stand-alone entity and not only an addition to a product. It is no longer there only to complement and increase the value of the product you are trying to sell, it is, in many cases what you could/should be selling (example Amex’ concierge service, and all freemium based product offerings).
    This means service can play an increasingly large role to your organisation’s bottom line.
    Hence, an organisations need to look at service from two different perspectives.
    1. Service as a complementary factor to the product offered, or as a differentiator. In this case performance based service is key. An organisation will get what they assign importance to, what they communicate, what they measure and what they reward. An exceptional case of where the answer to this is service is Waitrose. By clearly communicating the importance of service, and by rewarding people for delivering exceptional service through co-ownership, they send a powerful message of its importance in the delivery of the product, and end up with a competitive advantage through differentiation. Achieving this requires an answer to the question “What would performance as service look like in your organisation?”
    2. Service as the actual offer, paid for separately. In this case service becomes core business and necessitates NPD (New Product Development). On a separate note, NPD should maybe be called NSP (New Solutions Development) since we no longer live in a solely physical product world. Service being the core product has implications from an organisational perspective. In this paradigm it becomes a revenue centre and not a cost centre. This will affect its role and importance to senior management, how it is managed, and measured. Achieving this requires an answer to the question “What would service look like as a product in your organisation?”. In other words, what can you develop/create that people will actually pay for?
    Moving from a cost centre to a revenue centre may finally give service the strategic importance it deserves, the strategic importance it always deserved!
    If organisations won’t, like the aught to, do it for their customers, than maybe they will do it for revenue.

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