The Barber, The Hot Dog Guy, and the Customer Experience

A hot dog is a hot dog is a hot dog. But it isn’t. Not when you get it from the hot dog guy on Water and Wisconsin. “Now if there’s anything wrong with that,” he chirps, “I wanna hear about it. I mean that.” And he does – mean it. I doubt very many people have ever taken him up on his offer. After all, what does a customer expect? It’s a hot dog. It’s nearly identical to any other hot dog sold by any other vendor in the city.

But then, that’s the whole point. He has somehow elevated the forgettable transaction of buying a cheap street meal to an experience. “You’re the food critic we’re trying to please,” he quips. Food critic? Hot dog? Me?  “Give him the grill tour, Jerr.” Grill tour? This is all a little silly, you’re thinking to yourself. And yet, you start to feel differently about your lowly hot dog. You start to feel like this is something really special you’re about to eat. What the hot dog guy (or as I refer to him The hot dog guy) understands is the importance of the customer experience. His loyal patrons are not just buying a hot dog, they are buying an interaction. Which brings me to Bert.

Bert the barber is famous around this agency.  He is the unofficial barber the B+L creative department. I refuse to get my hair cut anywhere else. Am I picky about my hair? No. I’m a guy. My hair is not complicated. Bert does a fine job, but I could get my hair cut at any discount salon with decent results.  Much like the hot dog guy, what I get from Bert is an experience. One of my coworkers, Brian, hit it on the head when he said “I pay Bert for a good story and he gives me a free haircut.” Bert might be the most interesting man I’ve ever met. He can unspool a riveting personal story about anything from gardening to, oh… EVERY SUBJECT ON EARTH. It’s the reason his customers are so loyal and it’s a lesson in going beyond basic product benefits to deliver something bigger. It’s good business.

What Bert the Barber and the Hot Dog Guy both understand is that customers base their perceptions of a product or service, not just on it’s benefits, but on the entire context within which it sits.  The Apple Store is not about computing devices, it’s about creating a customer touch-point that makes people feel cool for being part of the Apple cult. Starbucks isn’t just about coffee, it’s about creating a community where everyone who knows what the hell “Venti” means, can feel part of a tribe. The bottom line is that consumers, whether they admit it or not, make most of their decisions based largely on emotion, and one of the best ways to connect with emotions is through interaction. So if you want to build customer loyalty, don’t just give them a great product, give them a great experience.