Flipping Everything You Know About the Customer Experience Upside Down

Author: David McMillin       

Looking to create a bigger impact with your next marketing campaign? A tiny restaurant in Maine may offer some inspiration.

One rule seems to direct every organization’s approach to customer engagement: Make it easy. In a digital environment that gives consumers everything they want via one click or one swipe, most organizations are looking to make the pathway to purchase as short and simple as possible. The events industry is aiming to embrace that frictionless experience, too, as most organizations strive to limit the number of steps between clicking “Register” and entering credit card details. But the era of convenience raises a big question: If something only requires 15 seconds to complete, can it really feel that special?

One business owner thinks the answer to that is no. Erin French, owner of The Lost Kitchen, a restaurant that seats up to 45 customers in Freedom, Maine, doesn’t want customers to search for available tables online. She doesn’t want them to join her email list or download an app. She doesn’t event want them to call. In 2018, the only way to secure a reservation at the restaurant was to put a stamp on a postcard and mail it in.

Did it work? Indeed. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, French received nearly 20,000 postcards with requests for reservations. What’s even more impressive is that this reservation-application period wasn’t open-ended. It lasted for only 10 days.

French’s unorthodox approach to marketing — one that requires prospective customers to invest some time and energy — is aligned with today’s demand for personalized experiences. “I’m thinking about whose dinner I’m making,” French told The Washington Post, reflecting on her process of leaving the postcards out each night prior to opening the doors. “All right, here’s who we’re feeding tonight. … We have a sense of who these people are before they even come in the door.”

We’re not suggesting that this exact approach be employed in the meetings and events industry. Receiving a pile of postcards is not an efficient way to process registrants. However, French’s approach may hold some valuable lessons for turning the transaction of registration into a more meaningful emotional experience. Consider how you can make the process easy but personal at the same time, so they know that there are real human beings who are happy they will be coming to the event.

Some event organizers are even turning attendance into an earned privilege. Consider the Global Wellness Summit, which requires all interested participants to submit a short letter on why they want to come and what they believe they can contribute to the program. The annual Code Conference receives more than 5,000 applications each year, but organizers only approve approximately 700 of them to be part of the experience. While applicants may not need to buy stamps or break out their ink pens, the processes do satisfy the basic rule of economics: Limit supply to elevate demand.

For now, I’ll be getting my postcard ready to find a seat in 2019 at The Lost Kitchen. This year’s tables are already full.

While you may not be asking your audience to mail in postcards anytime soon, you might be searching for ways to make the on-site experience feel more special. Click here for two ways to personalize a special event.

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