Five Truths about CX: Something to Noodle On.

My Twitter pal @Tarynp posted this photo on Friday.  It's a menu disclaimer at a restaurant called 'Noodle" on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, GA.   She almost left when she saw the middle section:

This reads (sorry - fixing quote issue in style sheet!):

"Noodle has a no return policy on our menu items. As we are confident you will enjoy all of our dishes in the way they are prepared and trying new foods an flavors is exciting, some of our food and drink may have unique flavors or be prepared in a manner that you may not be accustomed to. Please ask your server any questions you might have about our menu and ingredients before making your selection. Noodle is not responsible if you misordered or do not understand your selection. Simply put, if you order it, but just don't like it, you still have to pay for it."

Now, without question, the policy is rude and a bit audacious.  It would seem to be either an outcome of arrogance and confidence - or ignorance.... but perhaps it's both.   In any case, it's going to alienate some people -- but  maybe that's not a bad thing for a high-demand, busy restaurant.  Consider this (based on real life!) example:

Now, I'm not talking about the arrogance or abuse as a gimmick or a part of the 'schtick" of the business, which can be in some cases, mildly entertaining.  Many of us have been to restaurants that pride themselves in snark and customer "abuse" and even foul language.  Head over to Disney's Prime Time 50's cafe - and your server will employ old school discipline on you if you don't clean your plate.  
I'm talking about real indifference -- real arrogance at the expense of the customer.  Can companies really afford to handle customer experience this way? Possibly! Only the company itself can decide whether the trade off is worth it ... but I'm thinking care is in order!

The fact remains that when surveyed recently, 56% of customers say that they would "always or often" pay more for a good experience - even in a down economy.  Further we hear from Fred Reicheld that a 5% reduction in customer attrition can drive a 20% upside in profit.

If we take data like this seriously, we sure as heck OUGHT to be operating wisely with an eye toward the experiences we offer and facilitate.  So, starting really simply, here are five things we know about CX:

1.  It’s hard to beat a first impression - Get off on a bad foot and you may never recover. That's why in every channel, you must lower barriers to interaction and engagement, and clearly mark the path that leads customers to a desired end.  Demonstrating care and guiding people through the experience with care are important -- and timing and context are key!

Compare the impact, a new patron of  Noodle, of seeing that menu disclaimer immediately upon seating.  As a first-time visitor, like Taryn, you may be appalled -- you might walk out.  If this isn't your first experience with Noodle - but you are instead greeted by a warm hostess, a friendly, helpful server - the impact of that disclaimer may be slightly different. 


2. Negative experiences often carry more “weight”than positive ones - Screw up once, and people may be talking about what you did wrong instead of what you've done right in the past.  Turn someone off, even after a number of of good experiences, and they may not come back for more.  But if you meet detractors with a high sense of ownership and stewardship for the customer experience you can turn negatives into positives.

Noodle's policy provides no outlet for turning a negative experience into a positive one. There's also (seemingly) no exception for human error on the restaurant's part. If Noodle screws up, it seems the customer pays - and it's fair to say that this may result in the customer not returning to this restaurant.  The message is pretty clear -- and only Noodle can decide if this is an "acceptable loss."

3.  Customers usually remember “what you’ve done for me lately” - Sadly, for the most part, people are innately selfish.  They tend to remember best what you did recently to show you care.  People become brand evangelists, often for selfish reasons:  praising brands that make them feel better about themselves.  What have you done to make people feel valuable, wanted, needed, special or empowered lately?  If the answer is "not much" you may be off the radar.

Noodle's disclaimer seems to demonstrate a genuine lack of care for people. There's no offer to help people choose a menu option - the impetus is put on the customer to chose wisely and ask questions. Again, if people are left to rely on the menu for help, this creates a sad experience.

4.  Thresholds for negative experience vary.   If you have a monopoly on a product or service, people will tend have a higher threshold for poor customer experience. Further, if you have very vocal, active and loyal following, the thresholds and tolerances within the crowd can be higher for missteps.  (Try critiquing Apple in your spare time to catch my drift).  In contrast -- if you are in a competitive market, with products and services that are not particularly unique, with a quiet following - people's thresholds for negative experience will be lower.

In the case of the Soup Nazi - the soup was worth experiencing rudeness, acrobatics and rules.  In parallel, for some people, the iPhone was worth a six hour wait in line. In fact, many Apple fanatics considered waiting in line to buy the iPhone a badge of honor!  This turned into a positive story for Apple and AT&T.  We don't see people doing this for Motorola and Verizon. If there were six hour lines for a Droid,  it wouldn't be a positive thing.  Simply put -- if can buy your product anywhere else with a better experience, "Buh Bye!"

If Noodle has outstanding food, few competitors and a monopoly on location/real estate, they can afford to have this policy. Perhaps they even use it to "weed out" picky eaters and those who are not serious about this type of cuisine. After all, they can only serve so many - and their best customer knows this food, and loves it.  Only Noodle itself can determine whether the trade off is worth it.

5.  Positive experiences will generally drive positive outcomes.   We must take the ego offline and concentrate on the notion that our brand name is an outcome of the customer experience we deliver over time.  If we focus on being consistently positive, demonstrate care for people, manage our missteps carefully, assume a high level of ownership and a dedication to "doing the right thing" we don't need policies like the one above. Because people will come back -- at least the ones that matter.  Shoot for being "remarkably good" and use the word-of-mouth leverage to build a loyal and loving following. That means 4-5 stars out of 4 stars - not three.

In the end, Noodle's disclaimer is one tiny, printed piece of its overall customer experience.  Perhaps in all other areas - food, ambiance, service... etc. the experience is so positive it outweighs the disclaimer on the menu.  I'm not so certain.  I'm not in Atlanta, and I haven't been to Noodle. So, this isn't about my opinion.  Perhaps it's enough to refer to the opinions of the myriad of other people who have eaten there.  Based on the Yelp! reviews  -- which equate to 3.5 out of 5 stars... perhaps Noodle ought to be more careful.

In general, people's thresholds for bad customer experience are directly proportionate to the benefits and up-side they derive from that experience.  How should a company know whether they are driving the kind of experience that will win the hearts and minds of the people?   Listen.   As Taryn's tweet demonstrates -- the great thing about the social grid is that customers are already out there talking.  If we listen, we can use their  feedback to make things better and drive positively remarkable customer experience.


Kellye Crane said...

Interesting - beyond being rude, the restaurant is giving the impression that people often want to return their food! If I haven't even ordered yet, I might think twice knowing that so many folks dislike their selection. As you say, first impressions mean a lot.

Further, the negative word of mouth spread from Taryn to you to me. Even though you're far from Atlanta, Leigh, as an Atlantan I won't be heading to this restaurant with a reputation for multiple food returns. Another example of social media at work.

Anonymous said...

Tove Bormes on Facebook said:

EXCELLENT article...and one I needed to read...short version, we had a rather difficult customer today. I decided (for once), to shut up and let my gallery manager address her wants. And low and behold - with my bad attitude (which she really didn't deserve) gone, she spent - well - a lot of money. A lovely alternative to of the zero dollars she... See More would have spent if I'd have dealt with her. In short, quality customer service won out over the need to "stand my ground," and I now have a happy and loyal fan who will continue to patronize the business. And let's face it: that $1400 makes my pride taste a LOT better going down... lol!

Christy said...

Fantastic article! I was Taryn's dining partner that day and was absolutely shocked a restaurant would print something like this on their menu. These days, most restaurants are doing anything they can to keep customers - not turn them away.

It will be interesting to see if they are on Facebook or Twitter and if they respond. Hopefully, we will see new menus at Noodle soon.

It would be very hard for me to stay away from Noodle. Their $6 Coconut Green Curry noodle soup so was good - I went back the very next day and had the same thing again, for dinner.

LivePath said...

@kellye - do you still that way after reading @christy comment below!?

@christy - you underscore my point exactly! It seems the food was good enough - they made you crave it and you've been back in short order. So, the trade off is worth it! :-)

This is why formulas don't work. Brands have to determine what works and what doesn't through active listening and measurement. Not advocating the policy - just saying that if you play with the thresholds... you can get away with a lot!

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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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