I love food.

So much, in fact, that in the right setting and given the right circumstance, I will pay through the nose to satisfy a craving or round off the perfect appetizer tray for company. And what I mean by the right circumstance is that the customer experience is as great as the food, and for me, that combination is equally as important at a hot dog joint, a grocery store, or a four-star restaurant.

Let me set a scene for you. You walk into Eataly’s Chicago location. It’s almost like you’ve been transported to a spot in Europe – from the selection of amazing specialty foods to the Euro-style queues. There’s an authentic, artistic feel that manifests in the displays showcasing handmade creations. It’s trendy, artisanal, and the sectioned-off areas offering different types of meals and experiences provide a unique array of offerings to sophisticated consumers with a discerning palate and a willingness to pay premium prices. As a concept, it’s nothing short of fantastic.

Side note: My wife and I are obsessed with their shaved prime rib sandwich. It’s stupid good and we’re willing to queue as long as necessary to get our fix.

While I sound like an Eataly superfan, I need to go on the record and say that there’s an area where they always fall short: customer experience. It’s inconsistent and, dare I say, a little lackluster. For a guy who eats, lives, and breathes CX, that’s hard to swallow.

The service often feels slow or disorganized and, in many cases, absent. For example, I recently went to buy a bottle of wine for a client dinner at my house and the client and her husband are legitimate wine experts. I spent at least 15 minutes looking for someone in the extensive wine department to help me make a selection until I got so frustrated that I left and went to another store.

Another time, I showed up with my wife ten minutes before closing time for a prime rib sandwich fix and they were already shutting down the sandwich counter and we were turned away. I know, I know, it’s not ideal to show up so close to when a place is ready to shut down, but as a business with a specific closing time, you should be on until those doors get locked, right?

Pair that with the fact that more times than not, I’m faced with employees who don’t have knowledge (beyond obvious stuff that I can read on a label or store display) about the products they’re charged with selling. Granted, they sell specialty products, but isn’t that why they exist?

So, while the CX guy in me is cringing, I look past all this because of the actual product (including, but not limited to, the prime rib).

The other day on the way out of the store, I see a sign in the vestibule that says, “Eataly’s Policy…In 3 Rules. The customer is not always right. Eataly is not always right. Through our differences we create harmony.”

What the eff does that mean?!?

You’re opening line in the vestibule of your store is, “The customer is not always right”?

The customer’s not always right. We’re not always right… Is this a thing now?

Let me be clear. Of course, I know (and I think you know) that the customer is not always right. Nobody believes that the customer is flawless and all-knowing. It’s not a factual statement. It’s a mindset geared toward creating a positive CX. But when you open with a statement against the customer, aren’t you setting the tone for your employees to be on the defensive and think customers don’t deserve to be made happy?

I grew up with a grandfather who was a retail store owner and his mantra was, “the customer is always right…even when they are wrong.” The intent behind his saying was that regardless of whether the customer was right, they were going to leave his store happy. Doesn’t that make more sense?

And together our differences create harmony? Really??? Spoiler alert: I’m spending money with you – you’re not spending money with me! Your job is to figure out how to manage me, and every customer who walks in those doors, to a positive customer experience.

Guys, help me. Am I alone on this island? Am I wrong? Please chime in. I need to know where you all stand.


August 23, 2018


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