What a World Famous Chef Taught Me about Customer Experience

What a World Famous Chef Taught Me about Customer Experience

PV Kannan 01/10/2018 3
What a World Famous Chef Taught Me about Customer Experience

A couple of years ago in Forrester CXNYC conference, I had the pleasure of hosting a dinner for 25+ executives across several industries, along with a panel discussion on “Creating the Customer Experience Mindset.” I was joined by @Sean McGloin of Farmers Insurance and @Michael Moore of SiriusXM, and we hosted our discussion at Per Se, the acclaimed three-Michelin-starred restaurant in New York. Since the night’s discussion was all about the customer experience, why not host the dinner at a place that’s all about that?

If you haven’t been there, dining at Per Se is an incredible experience. The chef and visionary restaurateur behind Per Se is Thomas Keller, who has a long list of accomplishments including seven Michelin stars across three restaurants, and multiple awards from the James Beard foundation. He was voted the best chef in California in 1996 and the very next year the best chef in the United States. There’s a very good chance that you’ve either been to or at least heard of at least one of his restaurants which include, in addition to Per Se, French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery or Ad Hoc.  

Not only is Thomas Keller a legend in the world of haute cuisine, but his influence has also made its way into the entertainment industry (and I don’t mean the Food Network). The kitchen from the Pixar movie Ratatouille was inspired by the kitchen at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry restaurant, and the fastidious cutting and cooking movements of Remy (the beloved rat with a whisk and big dreams), were inspired by the very movements and mannerisms of Thomas Keller. The French Laundry, a destination for French cuisine in the Napa Valley, is really what put Thomas Keller on the map and helped propel him to where he is today.

The French Laundry Experience

When you dine at the French Laundry, you are immediately struck by the atmosphere – the dimly lit ambiance, the perfectly placed handkerchiefs and flowers – and you begin to imagine the experience you’re going to have. Chef Keller sees something different. He sees “the hundreds of individuals dedicated and committed to you. Only you. You by yourself.”

It’s that intense focus on the diner’s experience that has helped define what success means for Keller. It’s not about the Michelin stars, recognition or awards, but rather, about creating meaningful memories for each guest. Thomas Keller actually goes out of this way to meet his guests (after they’ve eaten) to make their dining experience all the more personal, memorable and special.

According to Keller, one of the biggest compliments is when a guest comes to one of his restaurants and says…“Chef this reminds me of a wonderful experience I had at a restaurant in the South of France (or Paris, Italy, Spain)” He hopes that very same guest has a great experience at another restaurant and says “this reminds me of the French Laundry or Per Se.” Therein lies the true meaning of success for Keller: he aims to be in the top five memories that a person has in a lifetime. What an ambition!

Keller’s Very Simple Formula for Success

To get Per Se off the ground, Keller closed French Laundry for five months and came with over 30 team members from French Laundry to inoculate the Per Se team and help build a winning culture based on a very simple  formula: Cooking = ingredients + execution

  • Ingredients - He is maniacal about getting the best ingredients including the suppliers, the wine, the restaurant space, and the people you don’t see who make the restaurant run smoothly. He scours the earth for the best apples, butter, figs, hearts-of-palm and caviar that you can find. Every ingredient counts.

  • Execution – The soul of a restaurant is its people, and they must have passion and desire. They need to be trained and mentored so they have the confidence and courage to execute at the highest level. One of the mantras in his kitchens is to do just a little better than yesterday…and in doing so as time goes each team member is able to really excel in their area of specialization.

So What Can This Culinary Master Teach Us About Business?

If Keller sets out to have a place in a guest’s top five experiences of all time, why can’t a business approach customer experience with the same vigor and passion?  If someone were to ask your customers “who are the top five companies you can count on to deliver a great customer experience?” wouldn’t you like your company to be among them?

If you consider the ingredients in your customer’s experience, you might be inclined to think about think about the best web experience, the best chat experience, the best voice experience, etc. Each of those ingredients is critically important, but consumers don’t think in channels (e.g. “did I have a good web experience?”), they think in terms of the overall experience with your brand – “did I have a good experience with this company?” There is nothing more frustrating for a consumer than to be transferred to an agent and having to repeat information because channels are not connected. The best “ingredients” will fail if they are not combined and blended in the right way.

In terms of execution, here are four key things you can do to create a compelling experience:

  1. Create memorable moments – Thomas Keller once said, “Success is not about fame, fortune, recognition or awards. It’s about memories that we collect throughout our lives.” Are you creating those memories for your customers? Create a great experience for customers to make moments memorable which helps build loyalty.

  2. Make it personal – You have a tremendous amount of data on your customers. Use these insights to let them know it’s all about them. Only them. Them by themselves. It’s amazing how many companies don’t take advantage of Big Data, or don’t understand how to use it.

  3. Make it simple – Whether it’s purchasing a new product or service or getting support to resolve an issue, do you make it simple for customers to get what they need? In the world of customer service, the path of least resistance is the winning path. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to get things done.

  4. Focus on intent – Forget the idea of channel-centric engagement (where most companies are today). Move to intent-driven engagement. This means using data to truly understand what your customers are trying to do, and responding accordingly. Leading companies are learning to anticipate and act on the customer’s intent across any channel in those moments that matter most.

This is what we see as the formula to deliver successful business outcomes and it can help you provide intent-driven experiences for your customers.

Keller defines leadership as “confidence + courage.” It means having the confidence and courage to step outside the norm and say “I’m going to do better. I’m going to create a new standard.”

Are you ready to create a new standard in customer experience?

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  • Ricky Alford

    With so many options available to consumers, brands have to find ways to stand out in order to draw in traffic.

  • Nick Steadman

    Offering services that are unique in the market can set a company apart and keep customers craving more.

  • Craig Fisher

    Details matter !!

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PV Kannan

Innovation Expert

PV Kannan is the Co-Founder and CEO of [24]7.ai. Since 2000, he has been leading the revolution to make customer service easy and enjoyable for consumers. In 1995, PV's first company, Business Evolution Inc., developed the first generation of email and chat solutions. The company was acquired by Kana in 1999 and PV became part of the management team. At [24]7.ai, PV was a pioneer in integrating customer service technology with business process operations to improve all aspects of the customer experience. PV has been at the forefront of customer experience from creating contact center agent services, developing a big data predictive analytics platform, creating omnichannel solutions for the web, mobile, chat, social, and speech IVR, to innovating mobile-centric applications. Over the years PV has been a thought leader in global customer service and has been featured in the books, The World is Flat and That Used to Be Us by Thomas L. Friedman, India Inside by Nirmalya Kumar and Phanish Puranam, and Reinventing Management: Smarter Choices for Getting Work Done by Julian Birkinshaw. PV is on the Board of Directors for Achievers. He has over 20 patents (issued and pending). PV has degrees in accounting and finance from the Institute of Chartered Accountants and The Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India.

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