In the five years I lived in The Netherlands, I became accustomed to the local culture and learned that “lunch” and “sandwich” are almost synonyms. In The Netherlands, sandwiches are relatively simple. There is ham sandwich, cheese sandwich and the “outrageously extravagant” ham and cheese sandwich. Sure, the Dutch cuisine evolved a bit and there are fancier sandwiches that include some lettuce, tomato, sauces etc.
Overall, in The Netherlands, choosing what sandwich to have for lunch is a simple decision that doesn’t take more than 60 seconds of light cognitive effort.
Soon after moving the USA, in May 2015, I entered an eatery that sold sandwiches. As I was waiting in line, I browsed the over-head menu to choose a sandwich which will fulfill its destiny by becoming my lunch. I picked one (decision 1) and proceeded with confidence towards the counter to order my food.
I truly believed that I knew what I wanted to have for lunch.
When I asked for the sandwich I chose from the menu, I realized that I had no idea what I wanted. There was an avalanche of questions that made me feel dumb. What kind of bread do you want: wheat, whole wheat, multigrain, dark, rye and some other options? In my own case, till I was about twenty-something, I never knew that there were more types of bread. Bread simply was bread.
I chose multigrain bread, if I remember correctly (decision 2). Then I was asked what kind of sauce I wanted and was offered another five options to choose from (decision 3). Then I was asked what vegetables I want in my sandwich (decision 4)? Next, I was asked if I want to add avocado (decision 5)? Finally, the relieving question of “for here or to go? “ (the singular sensical question).
Beyond the self-evident cultural differences between The Netherlands and the USA, some rather philosophical questions arise from my demeaning experience with buying a sandwich for lunch.
Isn’t the obsession of marketers and customer experience designers to achieve perfection leading to achieving exactly the opposite?
Isn’t the drive to offer the best possible customer experience self-defeating?
Hasn’t customer orientation (customer obsession) gone so far that it hurts the customer?
Sure, some Americans are obsessed with choice and agency – them making all possible decisions (even how many grains of salt should go into their sandwich). But, this very focus on micro-decisions can be detrimental. It’s lunch; it’s a damn sandwich. It’s not important. Moreover, there are much more important decisions one has to make daily and micro-managing the type of bread and adding or not avocado simply drains cognitive resources.
From a customer experience management perspective, it makes perfect sense for the sandwich shop to strive to give its customers the best possible service and experience in the shop. But, that 5-20 minutes experience in the shop is a small and not very important part of a much larger (human) experience.
Earlier I mentioned that some Americans are obsessed with making choices on their own. The belief (assumption) that someone knows what she wants about everything is deeply rooted in American culture, but not all Americans are this way. Some even dare to openly admit that they don’t know what they want and, in many instances, don’t really care. Why isn’t there the option of “whatever”?
The more I experience the wonderful efforts of providing excellent customer experience, the more I come to believe that maximizing each experience, actually, leads to a deteriorated overall experience (e.g. daily life).
Customer experience managers seem to miss the point that what they design is only a small and often irrelevant part of an individual’s life.
For example, the customer experience manager of an eatery aims to offer me (the client) the best possible experience and help me find/ craft the perfect sandwich. But, at least in my case, if I go to an eatery to get a sandwich for lunch, I want something to quell my hunger and get on with my day – focus on my own worries and questions.
If two people meet for lunch and each of them spends three minutes making decisions about what bread should their sandwich be made with and whether or not sauce x goes better than sauce y with pastrami, then six minutes of their meeting are not spent interacting with each-other – which is exactly the reason for which they are meeting for lunch. Six minutes might not seem much, but they represent between ten and thirteen percent of a typical 45-60 minutes lunch meeting.
If two people meet for lunch, most likely, their intended focus is not on the food. And, yet, somehow – through carefully designed satisfaction maximizing customer experience, the damn sandwich gets an unworthy and exaggerated share of customers’ attention.
Things are similar with the overly-attentive waiters who come and ask two – three times if everything is OK and if you are enjoying your food. Each such well-meaning question that is supposed to show customer orientation is, in fact, an interruption of a conversation. Socializing is the main driver of people going out for lunch or dinner; food and service are only accessories.
The issue of going overboard with customer satisfaction isn’t specific to the food service sector. For example, whenever I go to the bank and have a question/ issue that can’t be solved by the teller, I am asked to wait for a banker while sitting in a comfortable leather armchair. When I don’t go to the armchairs area, the teller insists that I should have a sit.
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I didn’t interrupt my daily walk and entered the bank branch to sit in a comfortable arm-chair. Everyone knows that for sitting in comfortable armchairs, one goes to a furniture store and pretends to be interested in buying one. At the bank, I want a seamless and, if possible, exceptionally fast answer or solution to a problem.
In the quest of reaching the limits of excellence, satisficing is severely under-rated.