Service Hero: Chili’s

Part of our Customer Service Hero, Zero, or Nero series.
Heroes really care about customers and create surprise and delight.

A few years ago, Chili's really ticked me off.

Because of our careers, my wife and I ate out a lot.  (We still do.)  And Chili's had my favorite meal, a dish they called 'Margarita Grilled Tuna'.  I had eaten it every week or so for some 5 or 6 years.

Then it disappeared from the menu.  (Editorial comment: Booooooo!)

I tried to stay away from Chili's in protest, but my wife dragged me back in.  Eventually, I found some other things I liked eating there, but nothing ever compared to that tuna…

Chili's continued to be part of our regular rotation of restaurants after our son was born.  And, with his magnetic personality, several wait-staff members would go out of their way to come visit with him.  The greeters and managers began recognizing us as well.

When we walked in last night, the greeter proclaimed "There's my buddy! How's Mr. Carson tonight?" and exchanged high-fives with him.  She took us to our 'regular' booth (in reality, we have eaten all over the restaurant, but we do prefer the booths).

Alex, who wasn't our server last night, came over and double-high-fived Carson, and talked with him for a few minutes.

Neil, the general manager, came over and gave him a big hug and called him by name.  He also brought a Chili's ball cap, and gave it to Carson to wear.  On previous visits, Neil has also brought us a complementary slushie and has introduced Carson to Neil's own daughter.

CarsonChilisLast night, he asked if he could take Carson's picture for the office wall, because "seeing Carson only once a week just wasn't enough".  15 minutes later, he brought out a 4×6 print for us to keep.  Carson was beaming.  (My scan doesn't do the original photo justice.)

On the way out, Carson gave Neil another big hug and waved goodbye enthusiastically to the other staff members.

Eating out with a toddler can be a challenging experience.  At Chili's, the staff's willingness to engage Carson has helped keep him occupied and entertained.  That's a big bonus for parents like us.

But what makes the experience truly special is the sense that we are among family and friends.  Carson is greeted with genuine joy by the Chili's staff.  They are happy to have us come back.  And, as a result, we are happy to go back.

For Carson, these kinds of interactions have made Chili's one of only two restaurants he knows by name: "Chih-wee's".  (The other is "Chick-foo-way".)

Can I recommend every Chili's based on our experiences?  No.  Over at the Brand Autopsy blog, John Moore openly wondered why Chili's needs to exist.

But I can heartily recommend our Chili's.  Even without the tuna…

A Few Lessons for Business

  1. Relationships matter.  We have come to see Chili's as a kind of extended family.  Out of the dozens of companies you interact with, how many businesses can you say that about?
  2. Relationships take time and patience.  Real relationships aren't built overnight.  If Neil had started snapping pictures of Carson the first time we met him, we would have been creeped out.  Because he had earned our friendship and trust over a series of interactions, we didn't mind a bit.
  3. Relationships require genuine familiarity.  Fake familiarity doesn't work — customers will see through that as shallow.  But when the Chili's staff remembers our names (well, OK, Carson's name) and our preferences, that shows a level of caring, concern, and memory which is lacking in most business interactions.  Neil, Alex, Tina, and the rest of Chili's staff have shown a genuine interest in us and our child, and have earned our trust and loyalty.
  4. Be happy to see your customers.  And make sure your staff is, too.
  5. Leadership matters.  Neil's outgoing approach and enthusiastic attitude has infected his staff, who reflect the same personality.  Speaking from experience, it is really easy to get stuck in the office.  Neil gets out of the office to talk with his people and his customers.  And it really works.
  6. Kids matter.  As a parent, when a business goes out of their way to show that they care about the experience they create for my child, they win my loyalty.  Be a kid's hero, and you'll be their parents' hero, too.
  7. The product still matters.  You might notice that I haven't mentioned the food last night.  It was good.  And a good product is the first requirement for a good experience – that's why the customer is really there to begin with.  Wrapping a great experience around an awful product will ring hollow for the customer – and they won't be back.
  8. Margarita Grilled Tuna matters.  Bring it back.  Please.

[where: 2851 Richmond Rd, Lexington, KY 40509]

One thought on “Service Hero: Chili’s

  • April 27, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    I loved that tuna. I still haven’t forgiven them.


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