Someone (you can't see the human serving) pouring fresh coffee at A classic breakfast diner. Breakfast plate in background along with a bill booklet.
Editorial

We Followed a Waitress to a New Diner Because of Customer Experience. Here's Why

4 minute read
Alan J. Porter avatar
What can you learn about customer experience from a diner experience? For starters, CX is about people, and not brands.

About 20 years ago I worked alongside one of the most successful salespeople I have ever known. He taught me a valuable lesson when he told me that it didn’t matter what company logo was on his shirt: People didn’t buy from the company, they bought from him.

It might have seemed egotistical, but he was right. I saw it demonstrated several times as he managed to convince several former customers of his previous company to migrate over to the new technology platform he was now selling.

Customer Experience Peaks and Valleys

I was reminded of this recently by what happened at our local diner, where a few weeks ago, we walked out before being served — something I never thought would happen. We drove a few miles north to try a different place, and as it turned out, we weren’t alone.

Back in December of 2019, I wrote an article for CMSWire on how one of the servers at the diner, Seth, had taught me a lot about personalization by watching the way that he interacted with his customers. We had been regulars at the diner for over five years and had breakfast there most Saturdays. We knew most of the staff, and most of the staff knew us. It was a happy place with a fun, friendly atmosphere.

Like most local restaurants, it had a tough time during the pandemic. And though some of the staff moved on to other things, including the aforementioned Seth, it survived by being innovative, switching business models on the fly to become a neighborhood drive-up grocery store, location for a parking lot drive-in movie events and even reconfiguring the interior layout to have shielded booths as restaurants reopened.

The staff that stayed on helped keep the place running and really worked with the regular customers to make them feel welcomed back. We also got a new regular server, Sarah, who got to know us, our kids and our grandkids, and we got to hear about her family too. And the food, as always, was great. It went back to being our Saturday morning home.

But over the last six months or so we began to hear rumblings that things weren’t all that cozy behind the counter anymore. While there was still a regular crew of three or four waiters, others seemed to come and go. Until we turned up one day and none of the regular breakfast crew were on.

Related Article: Here's What I Learned About Customer Experience From One Pharmacy Trip

Learning Opportunities

Following the Sarah Experience to the Next Diner

When we asked if Sarah was OK, we were curtly told that she and a couple of the other staff we asked about had “moved on.” We then left without even ordering.

My wife and Sarah had become particularly friendly and often texted each other, so we soon learned where Sarah worked and filed it away as a “let’s try that one morning.” After the level of service deteriorated at our original go-to restaurant, we decided to follow Sarah to the diner where she now works. The smile on her face as we walked in was worth the extra drive.

We returned recently, and this time she saw us drive into the parking lot and was at the door holding it open for us as we walked in. We started to notice several familiar faces, too: At least four of the tables around us were occupied by former regulars from the previous diner. I’ll be honest: The menu is a little plainer, and has fewer choices, but what the place does serve is tasty. The staff, though, is happy and busy. Apparently, the old diner called Sarah and asked her to come back, but she turned them down. Her family of customers had followed her to where she was happy to be working.

Related Article: Cheap Beer and Recessions: How to Survive and Thrive With Exceptional Customer Experience 

Business Makes or Breaks Through Its People

Our diner experience clearly illustrates a valid point for any organization, be it a small neighborhood diner or a multi-national organization. No matter what you make or sell, your business is defined by the people who work there. I’ve written before how I think that terms such as B2B (business-to-business) are a misnomer. All transactions at the end of the day are built on relationships and are about people-to-people. If the people who represent you are unhappy or unsettled, that will translate into the way that they interact with people outside your organization.

Employee experience is a key driver for customer experience and making the decision to be customer focused means that first you need to be employee focused. Having happy satisfied people on your team will make it easy to ensure that you happy satisfied customers too.

About the author

Alan J. Porter

Alan J. Porter is the Chief Content Architect at Hyland Software.