When customers come to your restaurant, you’re constantly delivering a barrage of clues that affect their emotions, which, in turn, influence their attitudes and ultimately their behaviors. What they see, smell, hear, taste and touch create their experience and affect them emotionally — even though they aren’t aware it’s happening. Research shows that 95% of mental processing takes place unconsciously. That’s right: Only 5% of customers’ decisions are based on conscious, rational thought.
That’s the reason understanding and acting on not only what customers think but also how they think, and how to affect that, is the most definitive competitive edge. This mind shift enabled one of the world’s largest restaurant companies to reverse a decadelong sales slide at one of its most widely known brands. By putting the customer experience at the core of its business strategy, and intentionally and strategically delivering clues to strengthen customers’ emotional connection, Pizza Hut U.K. was able to increase sales, customer satisfaction, employee motivation and job satisfaction.
To earn customer loyalty and affinity, companies need to look at the business from what I call “customer back,” rather than company out. There’s a lot of talk on brand building and what the brand needs to project to affect customers’ impressions of its product or service. However, I turn this notion inside out. I think this coveted emotional bond is created when companies think and look at everything from the customer back — by identifying emotions customers want to feel as a result of an experience. The value created by experiences is how they cause customers to feel, and that, in turn, affects how they feel about a brand. After all, customer satisfaction isn’t always a predictor of customer loyalty. Most defectors are actually satisfied customers. Satisfaction, loyalty, affinity — all of these are based on deeper emotional engagement and less on rational thought.
Working with Experience Engineering, Pizza Hut U.K. discovered the three most powerful emotions customers want to feel when eating there: lighthearted, uninhibited and embraced. This trio of emotions became the critical lens for designing, delivering and managing an engaging customer experience. “Experience Engineering made us realize that we should stop obsessing about Pizza Hut and start obsessing about what people want to feel when they’re inside our restaurant,” Pizza Hut U.K. CEO Jens Hofma said. “That shift in thinking has unlocked a tremendous amount of creativity within our organization.”
To consistently evoke those feelings and create a sense of “wow,” Pizza Hut U.K. began designing and implementing clues to evoke unconscious emotions that customers want to feel. At the core of this initiative, the company focused on enhancing truly distinctive aspects of the business: heartfelt service, craveable food and memorable decor. Employees were trained to engage with customers on a more personal, yet professional, level. Certain food items were eliminated, while others, such as Pizza Hut’s signature cookie-dough desserts, were enhanced with additional varieties. Dynamic lighting was added. And, perhaps most dramatically, the traditional buffet was eliminated in favor of fresh, hot pizza and pasta served with flair to customers at their tables by well-trained waitstaff.
Pizza Hut U.K. learned that understanding how customers want to feel brings clarity, purpose and alignment. Using unconscious emotions desired by customers as a blueprint enabled management a great alignment mechanism for ensuring all actions are headed in the same direction. Adopting this customercentric mindset will help all restaurants transform from selling a meal to delivering a dining experience that evokes feelings and engages customers. Purposely designing and delivering a full spectrum of clues to reinforce specific thoughts and emotions — how customers want to feel — is proven to help companies optimize the value of experiences they create.
Lewis “Lou” Carbone is founder, president and chief experience officer at Experience Engineering, a Minneapolis experience-management firm. He is also the author of “Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again.”