Watching the death- and birth – of customer loyalty (Part 2)

Last week, I gave you the scoop on five steps to avoid if you don’t want to turn loyal customers into a band of  torch-and-pitchfork bearing villagers. I’d say that we can all agree that is something to be avoided, no?

Part 2 is all about a magical experience we had in Spain, what this place did that gets us talking, and some key takeaways to implement for your own customers.

Avid foodies (albeit amateur compared to some folks I know), loyal watchers of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and not afraid to slap down some serious coin for culinary experiences of a lifetime every now and then, my husband and I were on a mission to eat at Arzak. Nestled near San Sebastian, Spain, Chef Juan Mari Arzak’s culinary journey into whimsy, deliciousness and the finer points of Basque cooking has earned him three Michelin stars. In fact this little city boasts not one, not two but THREE Michelin-starred eateries. You can’t say this guy has no competition.

I had to reserve months in advance. And even then only got 2:30 pm for a late lunch.

I could go on…and on… about the five course pre fixe menu we ate our way through that included tuna, lobster, lamb- and even pigeon. I could tell you about the five interesting amuse bouche we had, including the yellow crispy rice with mushroom “posicle sticks.” I could tell you the Lobster Coralline with tapioca salad and citrus was an amazing explosion of buttery-citrus on my tongue. I could tell you the lamb with aromatic verbena and chard was criminally moist and melted in your nouth, cooked just to medium rare perfection. I could entertain you with the whimsical desert of a blackberry and raspberry “tree” or the “playing marbles with chocolate.” And I could tell you the house 2004 Rioja was simply a divine elixir that complemented the huge variety of food we had perfectly.

OK, yeah, the food rocked. Surely that helps with word of mouth, no?

As I tried to show you in the last post, quality is not everything. Here are five things Arzak did that added just the right touch of personalization, customer care and brand goodness. How might you execute these in your business?

1. The Right Intentional Ambience and Decor: When the taxi dropped us off, I was confused. This internationally famous restaurant should be high atop a mountain overlooking the Bay of Biscay, I thought. Instead, we seemed to be in front of a little village cottage. And then, I got it. Walking in was like walking into someone’s home. And the the small amount of dining tables between the first and second floors (like a house) literally felt like they’d been set up in someone’s dining room or parlor at home. Juan Mari, who runs the restaurant with his daughter, Elena, is all about the experience of home cooking – with gastronomic flair. The brand experience begins with the physical space you are in.

2. Flexibility: The Matre’d was essentially our waiter. In his stylish suit, he was less a “sales guy” and more a tour guide. He strolled us through the menu, didn’t make us feel silly or foolish if we had questions on the menu items, and offered us the option of ordering a bunch of half orders to complete our pre-fixe menu so we could try lots of different items. For Arzak, customization is on the menu every day.

3. Standing by Their Product: Our maitre’d told us if we didn’t like anything we had ordered – anything – we could send it back and replace it with something else. He told us this several times. In a restaurant that could have been intimidting, snobby and cold with all of it’s accolades and honors, it was always about our satisfaction, not their ego.

4. Flawless Process: Everything from walking in, to getting seated, to ordering, to food delivery was a well-orchestrated dance. Everyone knew their role. Not once did we need to look around for water, or a new napkin, or the next course. It just kind of “happened.” The best service is service a customer doesn’t even think about. When things go right, it’s harder to get credit for this, as you can make it look so easy. But it sure beats how much people notice when things go wrong.

5. Delightful Surprises: World-reknowned chef Juan Mari came out and visited each and every table and chatted with us briefly (luckily I speak Spanish) and so did his daughter, Elena. She was delighted to find out we’re from Seattle, as the family’s good friend runs a delish Spanish restaurant here in town, Harvest Vine. Personal, warm, friendly. Right in line with the brand. In addition, I can tell you exactly every course we ordered. Because at the end, before our bill came, the maitre’d presented us with two printed and dated  menus of our custom order, including the wine we had. And, when our maitre’d asked if we needed a taxi, he called for one and then ESCORTED US TO THE FRONT DOOR when it arrived. We didn’t ask for this. We didn’t expect it. But that’s what made these touches all the more delightlful.

This place managed to do high-end dining with a warm, personal and approachable flair. Not sure how they do it all, but it explains why they book up months in advance. While we can’t afford to be “regulars” of this fine establishment, unfortunately, you can bet we’ll be talking about this dining experience – like those who visited before us – for years to come.

What would you give for loyalty and word of mouth like this? What can you implement for your customers right now in the categories above? Please share in the Comments!

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