It was late at night when we were driving back from the beach. My mom and wife were hungry and badly wanted to eat something. When I suggested some places, they turned it down. They strictly said no to fine dining places as they take more time to bring what we ordered and is also expensive. So, they wanted me to look for something simple where they can have a good South Indian dinner.
I started looking for restaurants as I took a right at the SRP tools junction. After driving a few hundred meters, I stumbled upon a small restaurant that was decently crowded. It also had a decent amount of space to park my car. So, we went in and ordered dosas. It was delicious!
But, that was not the part where I was impressed. The incident that followed made me think about how some small restaurants think from the shoes of a customer and provide them a unique customer experience.
After having a dosa each, I and my wife were still hungry. But, ordering one more dosa for each felt like too much. So, we decided to order something and share it. We called the waiter. He was a tall, dark guy in his mid-forties. He was wearing a faded saffron shirt, a maroon-colored lungi, and a faded purple towel hung on his shoulder.
“Anything else, sir?” he asked
“What else do you have?” I asked
“Masala dosa, onion dosa, uthappam, onion rava, plain rava…” he said all the possible combinations of dosa.
When he came down to “Chola poori” I stopped him and looked at my wife.
She said “Let’s have Chola poori”
For those who’re confused about what a Chola puri is, it is the South Indian name for chole bhature.
In fine dining language, it is a handpicked dough made of wheat flour rolled into a thin sheet and deep-fried to golden brown perfection served with a lip-smacking chickpea gravy with a pinch of coriander.
In layman terms, it is a poori the size of an inflated car airbag served with channa masala.
I said to my wife “Okay, we’ll order one chole bhature and split it.”
The waiter nodded and went inside the kitchen.
After a few minutes, he came with the Chola poori that was already cut in half. He had informed the chef that we’re planning to share it among us and the chef decided to cut the thinly rolled dough in half before deep-frying it. Also, we might have looked like the couple who would fight over an unevenly split poori. So, the waiter didn’t want to give it that chance.
So, we were served two pieces of a perfectly split Chola poori.
I was surprised and delighted with the whole experience.
The waiter understood that it would be difficult and messy to tear a full poori in half. So, he told the chef to cut it in half and fry it to make our lives easy.
I thought it was a great example of how to nail customer experience.
Caring makes all the difference
The incident that night reminded me of several past incidents where I had experienced a delightful customer experience from small restaurants, tea shops, and street food joints. They don’t offer a great customer experience in return for a 5-star rating or an amazing review on Google or Zomato. Most of these restaurants won’t even be on Google.
They offer a great customer experience because they care.
Last month, I went to Yercaud with my friends. We visited a waterfall that was located seven kilometers from the city center. As we got down from the car, we saw a lot of shops outside the gate that led to the waterfall. They had bread omelette, lemonade, instant noodles, carbonated soft drinks and a lot more. But, they did not directly sell it to those who come to visit the falls.
Instead, each vendor (mostly women) assisted visitors in whatever way they can. For example, the woman who ran one of the shops told us where to park our car. After we did, she said it is a two-kilometer walk from the gate and the path has steep staircases. She advised us to carry our water bottles. When we were about to leave, she said: “If you are thirsty or hungry when you’re back, we have lemonade, bread omelette, and instant noodles”.
We thanked her and went to see the waterfall. On our way back, we were hungry and ended up eating in the woman’s shop.
Instead of looking for a sale first hand, she helped us first. That made a world of difference.
Customer experience is not a tradeoff
Companies that are trying to build a loyal fan following can learn a lot of things about customer experience from small brands. How they take care of their customers. How they learn and understand the needs of recurring customers and how they manage to serve with a smile.
Sometimes, on the way to stardom, big companies often forget what drove them there. Companies that once focused on customer experience often shift their priorities to growth, revenue, competition, etc.
In Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog, so much was said about the early years of Nike. The salesmen who worked in Nike stores used to maintain a personal relationship with every aspiring athlete - be it someone who is part of the university running team or a professional athlete. They knew every athlete’s requirement, their upcoming races, etc. Some even send a postcard to the athletes to know about their race.
This was one of the reasons for star athletes to endorse Nike when they were at the peak of their careers. Nike cared and the athletes reciprocated it when they become famous.
But, we don’t know if it is the same with Nike now. Their shoes are still great, but aspiring athletes will miss the customer experience that was delivered a few decades back.
So, instead of focusing on things that would create a delightful customer experience, companies end up focussing on selling more and bridging the gap between the competition. Companies should try to grow and make money without compromising on customer experience. Companies like Amazon understand the importance of customer experience and continue delighting customers.
The key to delivering great customer experience lies in putting ourselves in the shoes of a customer, understanding what they want and delivering it. This will make them feel valued and will give them stay loyal to a brand like how I would always think of that restaurant in Taramani when I eat a Chola poori.