I heard a fascinating story yesterday that I want to share. I had lunch yesterday with one of my favorite clients- Dan Kahn who owns Floors To Your Home. He related a customer service story that really captures the contrast between a great and terrible customer experience.
Dan loves sunflower seeds on his salads. He gets the same salad for lunch almost everyday. But the Marsh near his office was out of them. He decided he'd still have a salad but told the cashier when he was checking out that the sunflower seeds were out at the salad bar. She said- yes, our supplier is no longer stocking them but I can let the manager know. Dan said that he appreciated that since he has been coming for years to get the same sunflower seed salad.
While Dan was just getting seated the cashier appeared with a little plastic cup filled with sunflower seeds. She let Dan know these were on the house and that they were sorry the seeds were not there when he wanted them. Shortly afterwards the store manager came up, again apologized and told Dan that they were going to re-stock the sunflower seeds themselves so Dan could always get the salad he wanted.
Needless to say, Dan was one happy guy. But he had a much different experience when he went to the Marsh by his house. He also found sunflower seeds missing at the salad bar, same mischievous salad bar supplier, and again notified the cashier on check out- hey, no seeds, me like seeds, tell manager please, etc. But this time the cashier didn't appear to be listening so he repeated himself- no seeds, me want. When she finally gave him her attention she told him- yeah, they aren't stocking them anymore. So he asked that she mention his concern to her manager, I get this salad all the time, etc. She looked up at him and said "I'm sorry, to be honest, I don't think he'll care". Dan was speechless. He walked out with his seedless salad and began to consider the two experiences.
Sunflower seeds are small things and small things are easy to overlook. They might not seem important, they might seem replaceable with another seed but for Dan they make the salad. He realized that this was true with every customer experience. Often there is something small that the customer really, really loves- it could be a person in your organization they really enjoy talking to, the annual holiday gift you send, the way your product is packaged or…sunflower seeds.
Dan is using this experience to take his company's customer service to another level. He is working with his team to identify what their customers' "sunflower seeds" are. Experiences are rooted in the culture of the business. One manager had created a customer centered culture and the other a self centered culture.
Building a culture that cares about "sunflower seeds" is more important than having the best price or location. Every business must work to create amazing experiences that build loyal customers who then tell stories like this one to everyone they meet. That's the core of culture powered marketing which is by far the most cost effective marketing around.