business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

The difference between being mediocre and great is shockingly small, perhaps best described by Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham:

“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a ground ball, you get a ground ball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium.”

For business, the difference isn’t how or where you hit a baseball, but how you train staffers and reinforce those lessons. That’s the only supposition I can make between two shockingly different experiences in the burger-eating world last week.

Last week Kevin wrote about a failure of a trip to IHOP to experience the chain’s new commitment to burgers. If you read the story you walked away with two memories: Kevin’s stomach distress that followed the meal and the staff ordering in pizza for their own lunch. Neither anecdote would send you running to IHOP to try the new “signature” dish.

So here’s the opposite experience. Last Thursday I met a business colleague from Chicago in Washington, DC, for lunch. Being the class act I am, I suggested we eat at a nearby Shake Shack, one of the new better burger fast food joints now dotting the landscape.

Kevin only wishes he was with us. First off, the burgers were excellent as always. Shake Shack has a simple menu - burgers, fries, shakes, drinks and a couple of variations like hot dogs - and they do everything well. But that’s not what made this visit so memorable.

My friend, a retailer, was very pleasantly impressed with the staff interactions we had when ordering and picking up our food. Neither process is especially complex, but Shake Shack somehow trains staff to make those little moments count.

But what happened next was amazing. While we sat at a table two different staffers approached to ask if we were enjoying our meal and if we needed anything else. Remember, this is a fast food restaurant.

One of those two staffers noticed our drink cups were getting low and offered to get us refills. We couldn’t help but notice her blue, disposable gloves.

One minute after taking our cups she returned without those gloves to explain that she was putting on a new pair to ensure that our drink cups were properly handled. Frankly, that’s a level of food safety concern I never would have requested, but once she said it, it became the main topic of discussion at the table.

We started speculating on how Shake Shack has created a culture of such amazing and caring customer service in - remember - a fast food restaurant, where there was clearly no expectation nor indication that a gratuity was anticipated. It was simply great customer service.

Of course, once Kevin and I compared our burger stories it left no contest as to who had the better experience (cheaper as well). There’s no doubt both of us will be back in Shake Shack long before we hit IHOP again.

In baseball terms, what happened in Shake Shack was a grand slam versus what Kevin saw in IHOP. Every business needs to remember that. There are things you can and cannot control, just as there are customer needs you can and cannot possibility satisfy.

Service that is caring, friendly and goes that extra step is a simple-to-execute winning formula every time. And for Pete’s sake, make sure staff eats the same food customers are having. Nothing could possibly express less confidence than ordering in pizza. That is striking out!

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
KC's View:
In chatting with Michael yesterday about his column, I remembered something I forgot to write about last week, which also serves as another poor reflection on the IHOP experience. Unlike Shake Shack - or Starbucks or McDonald’s or most fast food or fast casual restaurants that I’ve encountered recently - IHOP does not have customer Wi-Fi. These days, it seems to me, that ought to be a standard offering by every retailer … and it is another place where, to borrow Michael’s metaphor, IHOP whiffed.