At the side of a beautiful, yet littered side road in Western Puerto Rico is an enterprise that models how companies should approach innovation. It’s not one of the many pharmaceutical companies with facilities on this Caribbean island, nor is it a household name. This standard bearer for excellence in service and innovation is an eclectic little restaurant and bar called Ola Lola’s Garden Bar.
Run by former Michiganders John and Elaine Cosby, this quirky little gem offers commonly expected items, such as a variety of libations, along with a number of surprises, like the peanut butter burger.
Is the peanut butter burger the reason they are models for innovation and service? In part, yes. Here are five things they do exceptionally well that we all can learn from:
1. Wear your expectations on your sleeve.
Walking in from the grassy parking area, you immediately see an unusual twist on traditional welcome signage.
Unless you set expectations for the customer experience, they’ll set them for you. This must include not only the experience you them want to have, but how you want to experience the customer. In Ola Lola’s case, their welcome sign makes it clear who’s welcome (everyone) while also implying that they expect their customers to be welcoming of one another.
What expectations do you have? Are you making them so clear and obvious, it’s as though you wear them on your sleeve?
2. Add unexpected value, even when it may be a risk.
Ok, so now we get back to peanut butter on a burger. But that’s just the start. Add sweet pickle relish, a thin hamburger patty with some secret spices (that John won’t disclose), all on freshly baked Puerto Rican bread. All served up with extra napkins given the beautiful mess you make as you eat it. Flying back home, as I wrote this article, I pondered how soon I could go back. It was that good.
One of the reasons we picked Ola Lola’s were the evangelists on TripAdvisor who raved of this concoction as though it were manna from heaven. While there, we saw two large parties who had driven over two hours from San Juan just to give it a try.
The Innovation Equation is a great place to start planning a peanut butter like surprise for your customers:
What You Do That’s Good or Great PLUS Irresistible Value MINUS Labor and Complexity EQUALS Sustainable Innovation
Are your customers evangelizing how innovative they find your offerings? Do they write testimonials that rave about what you do and how you do it?
3. Spice things up.
New twists on old ideas are one variant of the Innovation Equation. Ola Lola’s could have left the peanut butter burger as is, but they get that risk has it’s rewards. I suspect that’s why John added some habanero chills to the peanut butter. As he told me the story of this simple innovation, he admitted that he wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but after he and some friends went through an entire jar of the stuff spread on crackers, they knew they were on to something.
All relationships need an infusion of energy, and those with your customers are no different. How are you spicing things up from time to time?
4. Wave often.
Positioned right by the road, John’s got a bars-eye view of the foot and vehicle traffic that goes by. Unless he’s tending to a customer, he’s waving more than a beauty queen. After more than seven years in business, it would be easy for him to take the people going by for granted, but he does not. He gets that the moment you are out of sight, you slip out of mind, and then, you’re out of contention for future business.
Too many companies, most likely yours included, become somewhat complacent, especially in reminding previous buyers to buy again. By doing the equivalent of waving often, you are in sight, in mind, and in contention for future sales.
What are you doing to ensure you are “waving” often?
5. Express copious amounts of gratitude.
As customers leave, John personally thanks each and every one, reaching across the bar to shake the hands of as many as possible. Never perfunctory, he engages with each person, albeit for just a moment. Yet, that moment is profound as you can see the gratitude, delight, and humility in his entire face as he honors their choice of picking his place.
Thanking customers for their business and heartfelt gratitude are two different experiences. “Thank you’s” are often habitual, a going through the motions type activity, while gratitude starts with a pause and a question. The pause is to focus in on the moment; the question is a quick internal inquiry to ask yourself, “What am I grateful for about this customer?” Then, and only then, does a “thank you” become more than just a perfunctory exercise.
What are you grateful for when it comes to each and every customer experience? How often are you expressing that to them directly?
Everyday, we each have experiences with providers of products and services, most of them not very memorable. These lost opportunities fade into the background when we have one of those wonderfully unusual experiences like mine at Ola Lola’s. If you’re looking to make your competition irrelevant, follow John’s and Ola Lola’s example. No peanut butter is required!