Saturday, May 16, 2009

Customer control.


There's a terrific scene from a 1996 movie called "The Big Night," a movie that features, among others Tony Shaloub and Stanley Tucci. Here's the plot summary from IMDB:

"Primo and Secondo are two brothers who have emigrated from Italy to open an Italian restaurant in America. Primo is the irascible and gifted chef, brilliant in his culinary genius, but determined not to squander his talent on making the routine dishes that customers expect. Secondo is the smooth front-man, trying to keep the restaurant financially afloat..."

In my favorite scene from the movie, a customer orders spaghetti with a side order of risotto. Primo refuses to prepare the dish because it is simply wrong. You don't have spaghetti and risotto together. You just don't.

It's always seemed to me that this scene has a lot to teach us, especially in the internet era where "the customer is in control."

Contrary to prevailing wisdom, customer control kills businesses. There was a time when newspapers and network news were run under the aegis editorial control, ie. serious news and information was covered. Then came the pandering to the lowest common denominator and wars were forced off the front page for the likes of Miss California's breasts or Alex Rodriguez's needle-marked ass. Viewers got what they wanted, then later they found out that really wasn't any good and they turned off.

The same pattern has held in entire industries. Consumers demanded low prices from airlines. Airlines complied. Sacrificing everything that made travel bearable, service, reliability and, I believe, eventually speed and safety. Retailing has also followed suit. It is impossible to get service or find what you want in any number of big-box outlets. Eventually people will find other places to buy books, or electronics or pcs, like Amazon.

My point is quite simple. Yes, you have to listen to customers. But more important you have to have your own beliefs, standards and core values.


Tore Claesson said...

it's a wonderful movie. But it did not end in victory and success. They lost it all.

bob hoffman said...

For a nice take on "customer control" I recommend this:

kazziechameleon said...

amen! i used to work in a restaurant that was like this, franny's in brooklyn. and they are doing reallly well financially, every night! look at all their reviews. frank bruni gave it a stellar one. but you have to sell the philosophy of such a place with stubborn in the face of hostility sometimes, and have undeniably great product to back it up. we got so much bad press b.c of our strictness when it first opened, but eventually won hard core fans who knew the deal, and people who trusted the journey b.c it was a really great journey, and lost the people we really didn't want there anyway. plus people love a touch of masochism... weird psychology at play of not being able to get what you think you want. i learned so much about human nature in consumer choices and selling product through story and by presenting a greater context from this restaurant experience. i wonder if the model works with mega-corps trying to swoon millions of diverse consumers. i think so. said...

The big promise that supposedly awaits us in Web 3.0 is context: the ability to add intelligence to things like search. As your post astutely points out, not every comment merits a reply, yet in this twitter-fueled age, clients seem more anxious for knee jerk responses than ever. It's not even a response, it's pure reaction.
But not every wisp of smoke indicates a fire and not every complainer is a customer--some are just cranks. Unfortunately, it takes a wise--or at least confident--agency and client to discern the difference and these days, both are in short supply.

Ed Keane said...

Of all retail outlets the only one that I've found still focuses on the customer is Nordstom. They actually have sales people who seek you out and isles uncluttered enough to walk in. I'm a fan.