When Your B Work Is Better Than an A

I never knew marshmallows could be AMAZING until I tried Terra's.

Terra American Bistro is a farm to table restaurant in San Diego. In 2011, they moved to a new neighborhood when their old lease was up. Chef Jeff Rossman used the new location as an opportunity to add a few new touches.

One addition was presenting guests with complimentary house made marshmallows at the end of the meal. The marshmallows were exquisite - a perfect balance of sugar, texture, and a little orange.

Then, just as soon as they appeared, the marshmallows were gone.

The restaurant stopped giving guests marshmallows after just a few weeks. It was the right decision. As you'll see below, sometimes your B work is better than an A.

A's Take More Time

The customer service rep wanted to build rapport with his customer. So, when he learned the customer would soon be visiting his home town on vacation, he suggested a favorite restaurant.

And then, he suggested another. And another. Soon, he was rattling off a whole list of places the customer could try.

The customer appreciated the extra information. Yet, the prolonged conversation prevented the customer service rep from serving other customers who were waiting on hold.

A single restaurant recommendation would have done just as well.

That's the challenge with always shooting for an A in customer service. It takes extra time, and that time can take away from serving other customers. There's almost always a trade-off when you spend extra time on something.

Making fresh marshmallows each day was a time consuming task at Terra. The trade-off was that guests either had to wait longer or the restaurant had to hire extra staff. Part of the reason for moving to a new neighborhood was keeping prices lower, so spending the extra time on marshmallows went against that goal.


A's Cost More

Time is money. If you pay someone to make marshmallows instead of doing something else, that increases the cost of doing business.

Companies wrestle with these decisions all the time.

Should you offer 24/7 service? Invest in a new smart phone app or a new website with all the bells and whistles? Give everyone free shipping? 

Customers might appreciate these touches, but it also increases your costs. Higher costs mean lower profit margins. That's okay if you can make it up in higher volume or improved customer loyalty.

Which begs the question, were the marshmallows driving enough customer loyalty at Terra to justify the added time and cost?


Focus on Value

The short answer to the marshmallow question is no.

They were a nice touch, but that's not the reason people went to Terra. They went for the outstanding food that was expertly prepared with fresh ingredients. They went for the reasonable prices and the friendly service. 

None of those changed when the marshmallows went away.

In their book, Uncommon Service, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss describe the importance of making trade-offs. The key is excelling at what your customers truly value while investing less in places where customers aren't as concerned.

No assigned seating on Southwest Airlines means the airline can offer cheap fares. Slow order turnaround times at In-N-Out Burger mean the chain can make every burger fresh to order. High prices at The Ritz-Carlton mean the hotel can offered exceptional luxury.

So, back to A's and B's. 

Find out what your customers truly value and deliver that. Be careful when going beyond what customers care about so you don't waste time or money.