Fast Company

Consistency and the Customer Experience

I just made a lunch run, and while the experience wasn't as distracting or dismaying as Alison's experience with Starbucks in November, I'm thinking as I eat my sandwich.

How consistent should customer service and experience be with a company's brand?

Walking a couple of short blocks short of the office, I went to Cosi at the recommendation of a colleague. Kind of a "Tell me where to go to lunch, and I'll go there," deal. He did, and I did.

The company's Web site indicates that Cosi aims to be comfortable, friendly, and cozy. I left feeling a little brushed off and ignored. Not embraced. How so?

After ordering, while a woman made my sandwich, I noticed that the tomato, basil, and mozzarella that made up my TBM sandwich had already been put together. "It's already assembled!" I said. She grunted in response. Then I asked who put together the T, B, and M every day. She ignored me. In a short while, she asked if I wanted chips or carrots. Chips. A moment later, she asked if I wanted chips or carrots. Chips.

I checked out and walked back to the office. But I feel like I didn't really accurately experience Cosi. Clearly, the sandwich maker could have been tired. Or distracted. Or irritated. But it fascinates me that someone painstakingly pieces together T, B, and M to make the sandwich making process faster. Every day. Who does that? Do they find a rhythm? Do they think it's important to do? Do they hate it? I'd like to thank them.

More importantly, I don't feel like my lunch -- while tasty -- lived up to the Cosi promise. The ingredients were fresh. The sandwich delish. But the experience in the shop itself -- and my impression of what's behind the sandwich are somewhat dissonant.

I'll go back. I'll try other sandwiches. But I wonder: Back in the day when Banana Republic was branded as gear and clothing for the adventurous, should I have expected people working at the stores to be rugged and adventurous? Is that too much to ask?

Ben Cheever, author of Selling Ben Cheever: Back to Square One in the Service Economy, would suggest that it might be -- but that that doesn't make it right. While Cheever didn't work at the Cosi I ate lunch at today, he did work a stint at one all of four or five blocks away from it. Small world.

He mentions the restaurant's cleanliness. The open oven that lends atmosphere and ambience. The staff's kindness in the beginning of his time there. And he half-answers my question: "Much of the food preparation is done outside the store, but the ingredients are put together ... in the basement."

After describing almost two weeks of working the lunch rush, Cheever details a series of run ins with managers.

Maybe Cosi was getting too big now to care about fun. The company is new. Run by young people. There's talk that they'll bring the company public. I know they'll keep the ovens. The bread is good. It's fabulous. I hope they remember the second gimmick, too, though. Because the second gimmick is the most vital. It's kindness.

"Want kindness with that?"

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1 Comments

  • Donald E. L. Johnson

    Gary Adamson, chief experience officer, Starizon, Keystone, CO, has opened an experience training center in the shadow of the ski slopes to teach organizations how to create great experiences for customers and employees. They don't have a web site yet, but here's a link to a health care industry guru who comments on Starizon: http://www.kaiser.net/articled.... Both me are friends but I have no involvement. Just trying to contribute.