Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game. ~ Tony Allesandra

Most weekends our family orders takeout from a local and well established Chinese restaurant. To protect the innocent (or perhaps not so innocent), I’ll refer to the eatery henceforth as China Enigma. It’s not the closest Chinese food in proximity to our home, and it’s definitely not the cheapest, but without a doubt it’s the best cuisine of its kind we’ve found in the community, or anywhere else in the greater Atlanta area for that matter.

I think it’s pretty safe to say we’ve been one of Enigma’s biggest supporters over the years when it comes to share of wallet. I honestly can’t recall anything we’ve ordered off the menu that was not fabulous… Sesame Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Shrimp Lo Mein… all to die for. Fresh, authentic and perfectly prepared. Every time.

Every once in a while, we’ll hear through the grapevine that a new Chinese restaurant has opened, and we rush to check it out. It turns out that no other options have come close to Enigma’s food quality, dating back more than a decade now. So each time we stray we confess to ourselves our poor judgment and subsequently return to the true and tried Enigma.

But here’s the thing. Our disappointment is not so much that we picked another Chinese dud, but that we failed yet again to find a trustworthy alternative. So why are we actively looking to transition our business elsewhere? It’s really quite simple. As good as the product experience is at Enigma, the service experience is as equally bad.

The front of house staff is notoriously stiff, rude and seemingly uncaring. Basic pleasantries like making direct eye contact, repeating food orders and saying “Welcome” and “Thank You” are absent in practically every service interaction. The few times we’ve opted to dine on-site have been equally discouraging. Trying to extract a smile from a wait staffer at Enigma is like spotting a unicorn running across your backyard. It just doesn’t happen, and if it were to happen, you would seriously question its authenticity!

On a particular occasion with my family at Enigma, I had the audacity to inquire if the restaurant offered any type of celebratory gesture for special occasions. It was my daughter’s birthday, and I had hoped to top off our great meal with a final signature moment (employees serenading happy birthday, presenting her a complimentary or discounted cookie or cupcake, etc.), only to be sourly advised that “Nope. We don’t do celebrations here!”

All service experiences begin with a spoken or implied promise, and China Enigma invariably fails the litmus test. While the scrumptious food keeps us coming back, a sense that we represent nothing more than a necessary evil to their livelihood keeps us in the hunt for a viable alternative.

So what’s the implication of the China Enigma example for your organization? Above all else, don’t get lulled to sleep by the fact you might offer a great, or even superior product. Your competitive advantage, which perhaps currently allows you to both charge a premium and garner significant market share, may potentially be short-lived. If your service levels don’t at least match your product offering, danger could be ahead!

How does the product or outcome you sell compare to the service experience you provide? Take some time to closely evaluate where you stand today. The long-term sustainability of your organization lies in the balance. Provide a consistently great product, couple it with consistently stunning service, and you’ll consistently be hailed as a community and industry benchmark. Don’t be an enigma!

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