Think about your favorite restaurant.  That place you go when you have some extra time, maybe a little extra jingle.  Not the place you take the visiting in-laws (unless you actually like them, but then that would be an oxymoron), but the place you take your BFF or closest couple friends.  The guys who know how to complete your lame movie quotes or Seinfeld one-liners.

Why did you choose restaurant X?  What makes it special?

Maybe it’s the handy valet or the great view.  The local suppliers, free-range meat, or nods to the diet du jour on the menu. It could be the funky interior or the layout just made for comfortable conversation.  You may have made the pick because of the interesting fare and prompt, thorough customer service.  The relaxed atmosphere or music may be your thing.  Or it may be the right combination of good food and reasonable price.  I just hope it’s not because you’re one of those people who like to drop a Benjamin for what amounts to a cup of frou-frou food on a sauce-drawn miniature plate. Puh-leeze!

The fact is, there’s a secret combination of ingredients working together to create a certain chemistry that just works for you (hopefully those that you’re entertaining, too), and likely many other diners like you.  That certain elusive je ne sais quoi that Micky D’s doesn’t capture, even with extra props for the new fruity smoothies.

You’ve had good times there, eaten good food there, taken refuge there when nursing a few wounds (I completely agree, you *should* have snagged that promotion.).  Some of the rational benefits of your choice are getting folded into some of the emotional accoutrement.  Things get melded together.  The restaurant is much more than simply a place to snag a sandwich.

When rational benefits meet emotional responses, transformative developments take shape for business.  Making and keeping a believeable, consistently achieveable (through a focused model, regimented training, tested process, and feedback loops) brand promise will play out in earned credibility.  The kind that spreads organically.  If you mix in “surprise and delight” variables often associated with service – being greeted by name, receiving special accommodations, garnering personal attention, and exclusive or special occasion offers – and a business can rise above a mass of peers.  It can attract and fulfill a clientele ready, willing, and able to spend $20 on the lunch that wasn’t.  Lunch at your favorite restaurant with your best girl friend who needed a pick-me-up isn’t lunch. It’s soul food.

A business intent on building lasting affinity with customers will recognize that success is sometimes not about achieving scale, but rather about delivering special.  I’ve paid extra for that.  And I’ve referred friends with confidence, too.

What about you? Where have you dined recently – or received any personal service – where you felt the brand was really paying attention to the details, and the front-line staff knew how critical it was to execute according to the secret recipe?

Image of Comme Ca from Zagat.

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About Heather Rast

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/cksyme Chris Syme

    Good wine, good food, low light, great wait staff, no TVs, a tapas menu.

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com Heather Rast

      To quote something I recently read by Seth Godin, “Those that can afford to pay for service, choose to pay for service.” Sometimes it's about paying a premium for preferential treatment, certain conveniences, or personal indulgences. Other times – and this is primarily what I mean with this post – it's less about premium tiers, and more about businesses thinking creatively and with a customer-centric mindset. It's about tuning in to customer's real needs and providing something of discernable value, not just selling something that everybody has to have.

  • http://rt-now.com Ruthless25

    Specials are what get me. Packages of a food and a drink for a set amount of money. You get it all, at one price.

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com Heather Rast

      Like the combo deals at Applebees and such? Bundled offers? Yeah, those can be win-win for the consumer and business. Maybe I'm picky but it's funny, I very rarely go that route.

  • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

    This just reminds me of how huge of an opportunity this is in my hometown.

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com Heather Rast

      Were you inspired? Or merely made hungry? :-) Side note, I honestly really wasn't talking about restaurants per se.

  • http://twitter.com/Genroe Adam Ramshaw

    Heather,

    I certainly like good service but I'm less convinced about delivering *special* as a sustainable business strategy. Surprise and delight is great but can be very difficult to repeat in a way that makes it easy for companies to build on each day.

    Recent research (http://genroe1to1.genroe.com/2010/09/19/are-you-stuck-on-the-delight-the-customer-merry-go-round/) seems to point to making life easier for customers as the best way to ensure long term customer loyalty.

    It's also easy to make repeatable.

    Adam

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com Heather Rast

      I didn't expect to hear others taking a literal route with my restaurant analogy. That said, I think you and I are closer on this topic than you may think, at least in some ways.

      I agree eliminating customer pain points (adding convenience measures, removing impediments) is a fantastic strategy to drive loyalty. When incorporated on a business process level, it becomes sustainable and reliable, helping build brand equity too.

      Where we diverge is on the idea of special, of “surprise and delight.” No doubt this can be hard to scale – many times when it transpires, it's more a result of the specific front line foot soldier than a carefully evolved business “hook.” So the mechanism, as with the impact can vary. It may not scale. Does that mean that as a brand you shouldn't inspire and openly support (even reward) a culture of exceeding expectations? I'd say not. Consider Zappos, if you will.

      I also think revolutions begin with a whisper, and if you, as a business owner truly strive to differentiate, to make your mark, it *can* be done through surprising and delighting the customer. Sure, folding in the extras, training more extensively, rewarding those employees who live the brand, digging to innovate – all that takes time and investment.

      That may be the difference between being profitable and being successful.

      • http://twitter.com/Genroe Adam Ramshaw

        I really do think that we're closer that it might seem.

        Pre-planned “Surprise and delight”, not an oxy-moron, is a good strategy. Here you plan how to surprise and delight your customers: the surprise is their's not yours.

        I was just not advocating telling your staff to delight the customer with no consistent way to do it. This is hard for them to execute in practice.

        Adam

        • http://insightsandingenuity.com Heather Rast

          Sure. Random “go make people happy, I implore you!” isn't a plan, and it isn't a building block for a brand position. It's a reaction, and I agree that if executed haphazardly, the message and the image would get muddled. Not good.

          Absolutely, a culture nourished by high service benchmarks and infused with a top-down curiosity for delivering the unexpected is the only way to go. This approach isn't a banner that can be pulled out and waved periodically when sales are down; it's a value system that fuels the brand. Then and only then will it an intrinsic part of doing business everyday.

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