May I Have a Black Napkin, Please?

plate_and_fork.jpgI was having lunch with a fellow consultant at a nice restaurant a while back. When my colleague was issued his white napkin, he politely asked if he could exchange it for a black one. The waitstaff eagerly complied. My colleague then explained that the white cloth napkins most restaurants use can shed very badly and if you have on dark slacks, you could leave the lunch looking like you plucked your own chicken! I did an aggie high five (that’s where you slap yourself in the forehead) recalling numerous times when I’d had that very experience and then asked to exchange my white napkin for a black one as well. Problem solved, your old buddy Dr. Burt learned something that day, and we went on to have a fine meal with the level of service we’d come to expect from this particular restaurant.

This little story may give readers a tip on how to safeguard their clothes, but by itself there’s nothing remarkable here regarding marketing. Since you and I want our brand to be about WOWing the customer rather than just solving their basic needs like everyone else we compete with seems only minimally interested in doing, let’s examine how the situation could have been better.

Wouldn’t it have been noteworthy if, when my colleague received his specially requested black napkin, the waiter had asked me if I wanted one too without my having to ask for it and his having to make a special trip?

Assuming the waiter didn’t know why we wanted the black napkins instead of white, wouldn’t it have been impressive if he had taken an interest in exactly what need that was fulfilling? Wouldn’t that have allowed him to serve future customers in the same way? How much profit could you derive from your existing systems by making sure your organization doesn’t make the same mistake? And would it really cost anything extra to do this?

Our customers want a better future. The experience they have with us helps determine what kind of future that will be. We can learn a great deal about how to deliver their preferred future by asking openly, honestly, and often through our customer research systems, and we can also train our people to be constantly on the lookout for latent or unexpressed, or unrealized needs customers may have. We’ll use this same example in a future BLOG to describe exactly how this restaurant (and you and I in our own businesses) can build systems that help us meet our customers needs better, faster, and more profitably than ANY competitor can hope to, while simultaneously making our organizations a more rewarding place for everyone to work.

For now, though, the simple lesson is this if we want to build a brand that reverberates:

The customer has the answer, and the customer IS the answer!