If You’re Going to Surprise Your Customers, Don’t Do It Like This

Tonight I went to one of my favorite places to eat—a hole in the wall that serves inexpensive but tasty Tex-Mex. I ordered the Beef Fajita Salad like I always do. Always. I like to think it’s because I’m sure of myself and know what I like, but maybe it’s because I don’t like surprises, and I’m afraid of change.

Why am I telling you this? Because the salad I ordered, the salad I always order, was different tonight, and not in a good way. Surprise!

where's the beef

As I looked down at the sad little pile of lettuce, I was thinking: Did they hire someone and not train him? Did they run out of ingredients? Did they forget to care? I actually dug to the bottom of the bowl, thinking maybe my salad had been tossed, and the “good” ingredients had migrated down beneath the lettuce leaves. No such luck.

Michael E. Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited, shares a story about his barber and the importance of systems to deliver consistent, repeatable positive customer experiences. Gerber went to the barber the first time and had a wonderful experience. He told friends, he went back. The second time things were still good, but not quite as good. What might have been a good experience (without any reference to the past experience) was a little disappointing by comparison. He didn’t tell any of his friends. The next time, things were a little different again, a little worse, and the fourth time was Gerber’s last. His experience kept changing, kept disappointing, and eventually he found another barber.

What can we learn from this? A few things:

Be careful how you craft and create your customer experience. If you don’t have a system to deliver the same positive experience consistently, you will disappoint your customers. The restaurant has a recipe for Beef Fajita Salad, but they don’t have a system for making and delivering my dinner consistently.

Even if you’ve created a system, you need to establish a minimum standard of service experience below which your employees will not go. That standard should include honesty. It would have been better for the waiter or cook to tell me they were out of the ingredients, rather than try to sneak one by me.

Be careful who gets to control your customer experience. I can pretty much guarantee the owner of that Mexican restaurant wouldn’t have tried to sneak anything by me. I’m a good customer, a loyal customer. I’ve spent a lot of money there, and I’ve introduced a lot of my friends to that place. But tonight my relationship with that restaurant was in the hands of someone who didn’t care that much. As a business owner, that’s scary.

In The E-Myth Revisited, Gerber recommends business owners eliminate discretion or choice at the operating level of the business. When I first read that it seemed harsh to me—I used to love to give people lots of discretion about how they do their jobs. I like to think it’s because I trust people, which I do. I also think it’s because I was lazy and didn’t want to create a system or hold people accountable, which is unfortunate.

That turns out badly more often than I care to admit. The truth is that if you want to build a profitable, sustainable business you need to deliver consistently positive experiences to your customers. If you don’t have a system for doing that, you don’t have much of a business.

If you’d like some help figuring out how to create the systems you need to deliver consistently great experiences for your customers, call me. I can help. My mobile is 214-850-7911.

Also, if you want to help me put my kids through college, you can click on my affiliate link and buy The E-Myth Revisited. If you don’t want to, that’s ok, but go down to your local library or borrow the book from your Uncle Frank. It’s one of the best books for small business owners I’ve ever read. And I’ve read almost all of them.