Of WOW!s and UGH!s

Delivering Stellar Customer Experiences

Charles Waldo

Editors Note: This column was submitted by Dr. Waldo last Fall before the Covid-19 Pandemic but the principles are timeless and especially apt as restaurants reopen.     

When I began writing this article my wife and I had just finished our morning coffees and reflected on a buying experience we had the previous evening.

  • With Columbus friends we had made the short drive up to Greenwood for a nice dinner to celebrate our 59th wedding anniversary.
  • For our celebration site, we selected Stone Creek Dining Company on

SR 135.  We’d dined there several times and also at its “sibling” in Noblesville.   But, with so many other dining options available in the area, why return to Stone Creek Dining? Why not try someplace new?

I wanted to try to insure this would be a really nice evening.  We go back to Stone Creek because we consistently have had very good experiences in all phases of previous visits.  So why not go there again?   As we sipped our coffees, we both agreed that the previous night’s experience was more than just very good; it was a WOW!  Our place decision was vindicated. 

 

What is a WOW!? 

I taught the basic Introduction to Marketing course at Anderson University for years.  I suggested the students use this easy-to-remember definition of “Marketing” and its role in organization success:   “Marketing is about all the things an organization must, can, and does do to find, get, keep, and delight its “customers,” however defined.   To constantly provide WOW! experiences and minimize or, better, prevent UGH!sDelivering Perfect Experiences -- WOW!s --time after time.  The type of positive experience(s) that will motivate the customer to return again and again…and recommend the organization to others.”

This definition in practice means that virtually everyone in an organization can have a direct or indirect influence on customer satisfaction.  The Stone Creek kitchen crew probably don’t consider themselves “marketers” and seldom will have direct contact with customers.  But who else has a more direct bearing on customer satisfaction than the food, its quality, the way it’s presented, and, of course, how it tastes?  In my mind, they are Marketers par excellence.

Avoiding Churn

Why is A level customer satisfaction so vital for organization success?  In a word,  Competition.  Regardless of what “business” you’re in, competition is probably fierce, with new “offerings” from competitors constantly coming from every direction.  

Without a steady stream of repeat customers, a business (or church, university, social service organization, and so on) will not last long. What is a “steady stream of customers?” The definition varies but many studies place the ideal ratio of “current” (aka “repeat”) customers to “new” (aka “first timers”) at around 85 - 95% “current” and 5 – 15% “new.”  Other studies have shown that, to retain an existing customer and get them to buy again takes only about 25% of the cost and effort required to obtain a brand-new customer.  Data also show that, on average, current customers buy a lot more per purchase or over a given time period than do first-timers.   So…..high customer “churn” is a death knell.   Take VERY GOOD care of those parties currently paying the bills (or filling the pews, classrooms, waiting rooms, and so on).

But no matter how good its products, services, and prices, inevitably every seller will have customers “disappear” which it can’t do anything to prevent. Deaths,  retirements, moving away,  change in income,  physical issues,  being absorbed by another firm,  and so on. So every organization that wants to do well over the long haul must have strategies for acquiring new customers on a steady basis.  Retain + Grow.

Value Justifies Price

So, what made our anniversary evening at Stone Creek Dining in Greenwood a WOW!?   Let’s look at some of the key ingredients.

(Disclaimer:  I do not know anyone who works at or has a financial interest in Stone Creek or its parent corporation,   the Cunningham Food Group.)

As I said,  we had been to Stone Creek several times,  had fine experiences, so felt pretty sure all would go well again.   We set a night with some friends.  I checked Stone Creek’s website for Specials or other useful information such as road closures or repairs.   The website is easily found and navigated.  There were many positive comments from previous guests on Yelp! Trip Advisor, and other social feedback sites…..more assurances.  

They have Early Bird specials that are excellent both as to choices and prices.  (Note:  Most Seniors love Early Bird Specials.)   So I made reservations.   We drove up with no traffic or road repair issues; and there was ample parking in their well-lit, paved lot.   We were greeted by name at the entrance by a friendly hostess.   She guided us to our table which was ready and attractively set.   She handed us off to our lead server, “Charlotte,” who also was friendly and had a nice way of “connecting” with us right away. 

She knew the menu backwards and forwards and made a couple of suggestions, especially regarding the Early Bird Specials.  She asked if we had any menu questions; took drink and appetizer orders; promptly brought them out; gave us more time to make our main course decisions; took our main course orders; promptly got them back to the kitchen; made sure they came out on time;  delivered them to us posthaste; and checked back with us several times to insure all was well – it was.  The whole process flowed right along and we never felt either pressured to make a decision or ignored.

The “icing on the cake” happened when Charlotte and the manager came to our table just as we were finishing our meals to thank us for honoring Stone Creek for our anniversary celebration; congratulated us on 59 years; and offered complimentary desserts and coffee for all. What a nice surprise!

We then headed back to Columbus with no road issues to mar the evening.      

Everything went perfectly -- a true WOW!  It wasn’t a “cheap” evening but we felt we received very high value, which is a major influence for a return visit.  We will return. And tell others.,,like you.

The Golden Rule

While this WOW! was in a restaurant setting, everyone reading this article has “customers,” regardless of how defined. If you want to stay in “business,” whatever that “business” is, it behooves you and your team to go all out to try to deliver a WOW! with each and every customer “encounter.”   What do customers value the most in the relationship?  What have been their experiences with your organization in the past?  Did things go smoothly, just as they expected or hoped?   Were there any “hiccups?”  Did any problems get quickly and fairly resolved to the customer’s complete satisfaction? Did they feel they got high value for what they spent?

Truthfully, WOW!s are virtually impossible to deliver time after time since there are so many things that can go wrong in the course of a transaction, even simple ones. And many times it’s not the seller’s fault. For example,  if during our visit to Stone Creek there had been a loudly crying baby at a table near us,  I can’t imagine us scoring the evening a  WOW!, although the restaurant wasn’t at fault and probably couldn’t control the situation in the short run. Yet we spent our good money to get a great experience. Crying babies don’t make for a great experience but they are a fact of life and should be prepared for. Do you have a plan in place to address such situations and are employees trained on it?  What about other possible problems? Do employees have some leeway to try to immediately deal with the issue? 

For sure the restaurant must recognize the negative impact on the other customers and begin to try to make amends.  Quietly apologize to the other affected customers, acknowledging the negative impact on their dining experience.    Offer something of appropriate value to show your sincerity – comp 100% of their current meal or give them a gift card to pay for a meal of their choice on a future visit   And for a couple of their guests.  Follow-up with a nice “We’re sorry your recent visit might have been marred; please come back and accept a complimentary meal” note from the manager.  I guarantee the customer will be pleasantly surprised and will return to give you an opportunity to redeem yourself.  The “Golden Rule” is not only the ethical course to follow but it makes good business sense in the long run.

The folks with the crying baby probably didn’t enjoy themselves, either.  Why not go the extra mile and comp their meals and/or give them a voucher for a return visit – without the baby? 

The key “Secret”

Always do the best you can; ownership and management must be committed to high goals. Hiring the best people, treating them right, and giving them the tools with which to succeed. Stay in touch with customers; know what matters most to them; and try to over-deliver what they want. When the customer is happy,  everyone should be happy.  (Unfortunately,  human nature being what it is,  some customers can never be satisfied and will cause a lot more trouble than they’re worth. Fire ‘em.)

PS  – Will you share a WOW! experience you’ve had with this magazine’s readers? If so, write it up and email to me and maybe we can learn from each other in a future issue.

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.Charles Waldo, Ph.D., is Professor of Marketing (ret.) at Anderson University’s Falls School of Business.    He now lives in Columbus (IN) and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..