Pickles and Brownies

by Erik Doescher


It’s 8:47pm, and I’m writing this post from a hotel room in Manchester, Tenessee. Robin Anderson (one of Pivot’s illustrious consultants) and I are in Tennessee on business, and just got back from dinner before a big day of meetings tomorrow.

We ate at O’Charley’s, a restaurant chain featuring mostly standard American fare. When we got to our table, we were greeted by a friendly young server with red hair. (And I mean red – like an apple.) Her name was Tesha. Tesha was the kind of person you just immediately like. As she came to our table throughout the night, she’d call us “hon” or “babe,” making us feel like old friends instead of complete strangers.

Now, if you haven’t eaten at an O’Charley’s before (this was my first time), the portions are fairly large. So by the time we finished our main course we were stuffed. Unfortunately, I had made the mistake of ordering the “Trio,” which added soup and a slice of pie to my meal (which I wasn’t about to turn down). When Tesha arrived back at our table to take my pie order (I ordered apple and it was delicious, btw), she asked Robin if she could bring her anything. Robin had her eye on the chocolate brownie with ice cream, but told Tesha that after traveling for several weeks in a row (and eating out constantly), she really didn’t want the extra calories — and plus she’d only eat a few bites versus an entire piece anyway. So Tesha left to grab my pie, and Robin and I continued to talk about our plans for the following day.

When Tesha arrived back with my pie, she had a little surprise for Robin — half a piece of the chocolate brownie with ice cream. She explained that she felt Robin deserved a little treat after traveling so much, and that it gave her (Tesha) an excuse to eat half a slice of chocolate brownie with ice cream, which she was perfectly happy to do.

Robin started laughing, said thank you, gave Tesha a big hug, and proceeded to take down that half slice of chocolate brownie. (And if you’re wondering, yes, I have Robin’s permission to tell this story.)

At Pivot, we’ve been talking a lot lately about customer experience. How we can relate to customer experience in our marketing (see my earlier post from July 30th), how we can provide exceptional service that leads to better customer experience, how we can provide a truly remarkable experience overall.

What did Tesha do in the instant she arrived with that chocolate brownie for Robin? The answer: a lot. She transformed a good experience with O’Charley’s into a great experience with O’Charley’s. She delighted Robin and made her evening. She ensured that we’ll go back to O’Charley’s when we’re in this neck of the woods again (and that we’ll probably request Tesha).

Oh, and she doubled her tip in that moment. Here’s the note Robin left Tesha on the back of the receipt.

O'Charleys Pivot Experience

In Portland, we used to have Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. It was one of my (and my brother’s) favorite places to go as kids, because, well… there was ice cream. And candy. And games. The founder of Farrell’s, Bob Farrell, wrote a book called Give ‘Em The Pickle, based on a principle he instituted after receiving an angry letter from a customer.

If you haven’t heard the story before, the customer had been dining at Farrell’s for a few years, and had always ordered an extra slice of pickle with his hamburger and shake. And Farrell’s had always given him the extra pickle. One day, a new waitress took his order, and when he requested the extra pickle, she told him she could sell him a side of pickles for $1.25. He explained that he always ordered an extra pickle, and that Farrell’s had always given him the extra pickle. So the waitress then went and spoke to a manager, came back and told the customer that she could sell him the extra pickle slice for a nickel.

The customer was so frustrated by this experience that he wrote Bob Farrell a letter, letting him know that if this was the way his restaurant was going to conduct business, that he wouldn’t be coming back. Fortunately, Mr. Farrell had an opportunity to speak with the customer and make it right, but it led to the “Pickle Principle” that essentially says, “When in doubt, give ’em the pickle.”

I was thinking about Bob Farrell this evening when Tesha brought out that chocolate brownie. She didn’t just apply the “Pickle Principle,” she changed it to “Give ’em the pickle… even when they haven’t asked for it.”

And then there’s us. What have we in the telecommunications industry done through the years? Well, I can think of a number of stories I’ve heard over the years where we’ve given ’em the pickle.

On the other hand, we also done stuff like this: we offer a great deal to get a customer to switch from their current provider but then charge them for installation. We ask them to try new Internet speeds during a trial period and then keep charging them for the higher speed because they didn’t call in again and lower it again. We knowingly let customers stay on old plans that cost them more money instead of moving them to a new plan that will save them money. We let them make poor service choices and pay more than they have to instead of educating them on a better road to take.

In those situations, we’re not giving ’em the pickle. It’s more like we’re ripping the pickle out of their hand as they’re about to take a bite.

Tonight, Tesha and O’Charley’s gained two new fans.

All those years ago, Bob Farrell gained a customer for life.

Now it’s our turn. What can we do to delight our customers, to fundamentally change their experience with our companies for the better?

How can we not only give ’em the pickle, but give ’em the pickle… even when they haven’t asked for it?

ViewHide Comments(2)

2 Responses

  1. Rachel Stopka says:

    Great lesson Erik – I really enjoyed the article!

  2. Ra says:

    Well done, my friend. Thanks for making me famous. 😉 Fun to share the ride with you!

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