September 10


How One Employee Can Make Your Brand Experience

David Millay

September 10, 2019

On Episode 6 of Flip the Switch, Chris Grosse surprised me.

Chris, the Assistant Athletics Director of Marketing for Penn State Athletics, shared with us the best customer experience he’s had in recent memory. It wasn’t with Zappos or Southwest Airlines, but instead, but was with Olive Garden. Yes, the Italian restaurant that some of my Italian friends won’t step foot in.

We jump in to the discussion at the 46:00 minute mark when I ask him what his favorite customer experience in recent memory was.

Chris Grosse:So, my wife and I, we got a gift card to the Olive Garden…

David Millay:

This is not what I would have expected…

Chris Grosse:

We realized that we that we had to use this, and we have the kids, right. We want to take them to dinner somewhere, and with kids, it’s tough to go out to eat, right?And so we had been out to eat with them a number of times before this, here in State College, PA. And we had gone a number of different places and the service was bad, like bad service, like waiting an hour for food to come out, and with kids, it’s like multiplied by 10. We just had bad experience after bad experience here, at different restaurants, I won’t name them but…

Chris Grosse:So we get to Olive Garden, and, we’re a little skeptical, you know, I haven’t been there since I was 10 years old. I don’t think my wife had ever been there. So we go there and, and the waiter is amazing, right? Like this guy is, he is coming by every second. He’s bringing out some free stuff for the kids to eat. He’s picking up crayons off the ground. He’s making sure everything’s coming out quickly. Like literally the best service I remember getting ever, at a restaurant and, I was like, “I got to say something to the manager,” maybe it was because I just had a bunch of bad service [experiences] leading up to that.

Chris Grosse:

I went up to the manager: “Hey, I gotta tell you this guy…”

And when I started talking about it to the management, you could see his face like, “Oh no, he’s gonna say something bad.

But I said, “this guy was awesome. He was on it, and he was super excited and really, really nice to my kids and my family. And it just made eating here, just a great experience, that guy was great”

Then the manager said, “well, that’s awesome to hear. He’s only been working here for a couple of days!” But regardless, that guy was doing an incredible job.

Chris Grosse:

And so, you know, if I have to remember a customer experience, that’s the one that’s sticking out to me right now. For sure.

David Millay: That’s such a good story because it’s not like it was the Ritz Carlton, where you expect it great service. and kind of go into it thinking, “oh man, haven’t been here in 20 years, I wonder what it’s gonna be like.” And when people think of service, Olive Garden’s not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind.

David Millay:

But what’s interesting is that one person so often can make all the world of difference in a customer’s experience. And you know, that’s part of Happy Valley Hospitality, right. That becomes what it is, saying, hey, as that one person, you could make a difference in this fan’s game day experience.

This story highlights an important note about customer experience, one that we often work on with athletic departments and Universities. It’s easy to get caught up in all the new technology and massive renovations that are happening, but often times, it’s an hourly employee that creates the deepest emotional connections.

Leonard Barry, a marketing professor at Texas A&M and past president of the American Marketing Association, once said,

“To exceed customer expectations and create a memorable experience, you need the behavioral and interpersonal parts of the service. You need the element of pleasant surprise. And that comes when human beings interact.”

As we work with Penn State Athletics to take their customer experience to the next level, this is one area we’ll be focused on – architecting how “Happy Valley Hospitality” should make fans feel, and designing systems and processes behind the scenes that empower employees to create surprise and delight moments, just as the Olive Garden server did for Chris and his family.

David Millay

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