The ‘That’s OK’ Economy


I recently wrote about how companies can provide small, unexpected surprises, based on their normal business practices, to create ‘WOW!’ moments for their clients. Of course, the opposite is true at the other end of the client’s experience spectrum, when you ignore the impact of your daily interactions you can plunge your customers into head-shaking reactions.




I was at a bakery to buy a loaf of sourdough bread (really good sourdough bread). I waited in a long line for about 15 minutes, an eternity in the right-now-reality of today. Part of the reason, of the three registers, only one was being manned despite the obvious backup of customers (the line was 12 deep). But, the bread was worth it. Even though I had to listen to the customers around me complain about the ridiculous wait, it was worth it. As my turn approached I asked for a loaf of sourdough, thickly sliced. She gave me a legitimate blank stare. I waited and then politely repeated my order. She turned to the racks of bread loaves and asked, “Which one is sourdough?”

Uh Oh! The one with the little beautifully calligraphic sign that said, you guessed it, sourdough. “Can I get it THICKLY sliced?” “Sure.” As she put the properly identified loaf into one of two slicers, I recognized that she put it in the thin slice machine. I said, “No, no, the thick slice machine.” She corrected me, “This IS the thick slice machine.” Though I don’t work for this purveyor of carbohydrates, I could tell by the width of the cutting template which machine was which, but too late to correct. The deed was done and I had a thinly sliced loaf of bread. Oh, by the way, it was the last loaf of sourdough. She apologized and I said, “That’s alright,” and went on my way.




At the movies, I ordered a medium Diet Coke. That will be $4.11. I gave her a fiver and she counted out the change. She thanked me and said’ “I hope you enjoy the movie.” I stood there and she asked, “Would you like something else?” “No, but I would like my Diet Coke.” What? I gave you the money and you didn’t give me my Diet Coke, thus the transaction is incomplete. She looked at me blankly. We all, unfortunately, are getting used to that look. I politely waited for a reaction and receiving none, I repeated the order of events until she finally perceived that she had yet to complete the transaction. She passed over the drink and as I had a sip on the way to the theater discovered it was a regular coke. “That’s alright,” I figured.




What’s the Problem

We immediately retreat from our expectations into the realm of ‘that’s alright.’ Neither of these incidents was world-changing, but both were evidence of a lack of face to face attention. This spells a lack of training and it is the core reason for our commonplace low expectations. The basics are a big deal and the basics should be the basics. If it is client facing, it’s NOT basic, it’s fundamentally critical to your desired outcome. Front facing is the empirical identity of your brand.

Check out how you’re greeted by the front facing folks at Chick-Fil-A or the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award winning teams at Rudy’s BBQ (when you’re in Texas). They make you feel like family and they know their stuff because they are well trained.

We expect things to go wrong, for the service to breakdown, for the ‘that’s alright’ experience.

So, if you are looking for WOW moments, look no farther than how your phone is answered, how your receptionist greets someone entering your office, how well those that are your front line warriors represent YOU.  You know what’s important and you can stop the dipped shoulders of a customer saying, “THAT”S ALRIGHT!”

I’m a Delighted End User

While it may seem small, the ripple effects of small things are extraordinary.

-Matt Bevin


Extraordinary customer experiences seem to elude us at every turn. I often wonder if it seems like too monumental a goal to reach for and perhaps that is why we settle so often for mediocrity or words like fine, ok, good, alright, and the like. If you think wowing your end user, client or prospect requires extraordinary effort I’m here to tell you it often doesn’t. Here are three great examples of what I mean.



I was sitting in my plane getting ready for the flight from Portland to Austin when I took out my headphone case and realized; DAMN, I left my headphones in the hotel room. I was charging them and they’re black, the nightstand was black and the combination equaled invisible to my standard last minute “do I have everything” room inspection.

I had a backup pair, but I loved those wireless earbuds. I chalked them up to another absent-minded loss. When I landed and turned on my phone, the hotel manager had sent me a text:


Mr. Harvill, we found your headphones and have put them in the mail to your Austin address.


HUH? WHAT? You’re kidding. I immediately looked up the hotel phone number, called the manager and said, “THANKS!”



I was getting off a flight in Charlotte where I had a two-hour layover before my next flight. As I got off the plane there was an airline representative who asked, “Where are you headed?” I said, “Myrtle Beach in a couple of hours.” She told me the plane at the very next gate was headed to Myrtle Beach in 15 minutes and there were seats available. “Want to head out early?” HUH? WHAT?


Then this happened…

I don’t do any banking. My wife handles all the personal stuff and the Dallas team does all the business stuff, but I was in need of 500 pennies. Yeah, 500 penny’s (a common tool we use in our workshops). So, I walked into our local branch and was greeted with a big, “Hi, we’ve got fresh coffee and just baked cookies, want some?” Uh, YEAH! Then I thought, HUH? WHAT?

Every day our meters are set at normal.  Our expectations are for minimum effort and when even the smallest thing shatters our daily hamster-wheel-existence we are stopped in our tracks. We respond with our eyebrows raised in incredulity. What the heck, a twinkle of kindness, an extra step of effort, a simple moment changes things.

The three instances I shared made me write this.

Those minutes are measured in seconds of impact.

It doesn’t take much. The space between ordinary and extraordinary is smaller than you think. It just takes a moment, one available to everyone. It’s what separates and differentiates companies and organizations. It’s about training, accountability, and focus. I mean, how expensive is a smile?

The Gravity of Plan “B”

I’m sure you’ve noticed that despite all of your planning, from time to time, things seem to go wrong.

You book a flight scheduled to leave at 9:00 AM, that’s your Plan “A”, but the flight is delayed 90 minutes and now you are in the gravitational pull of Plan “B”.  You have to let your client know.  Make sure your ground transportation knows and maybe give the hotel a call if they were expecting you at a certain time.

You are out to dinner and a very pleasant wait person takes your order.  The meals arrive only your meal is incorrect, in fact, it’s not even close.  There is the perfunctory apology and they hurry back to the kitchen.  Your dining partner’s food is getting cold so you provide the apparently needed permission for them to dine ahead of you.  You are now in the throngs of a Plan “B” dining experience.

Crazy 1

Most Plan “B’s”, not all, but most, revolve around something bad.  Bad is an interesting condition and it creates its own form of energy, let’s call it bad gravity.  Like gravity, bad can be very powerful and can actually hold the entire experience together, much like mass and speed create an orbit.  The mass and speed of bad is a power to behold and once it starts, it takes very little effort to maintain and incredible amounts of energy to escape from.  One bad thing seems to attract other bad things and after the door cracks open to let bad in, the second bad beast is nipping at its heals.  Bad creates negativity as fast as a snowball rolling down hill.

Now good on the other hand requires a staggering amount of energy,  Good is like a gas guzzling Hummer.  It takes a lot to keep it going.  Good requires attention.  It needs action and vigilance.  It is a constant crying baby starving for attention.  That’s why we are always a little stunned when good hits us.   Good is often hanging on by just a thread.


A general contractor shows up on time and does a project on budget and on schedule (my hero).  A package arrives a little ahead of schedule (thanks Amazon).  Plan “A” is tough, but if you are looking for market separation, the most impactful methods of differentiation in your crowded market, try to focus on giving your clients and customers a consistent and strong Plan “A”.  If you find yourself being drawing into a black hole of bad, STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING and respond immediately.  No matter what you are doing, bad needs instantaneous action.  It is the only way to pull yourself out of the tug of  giving your client, Plan “B”.

success 2

There is power in your comeback from the first inkling of bad, but only if it is quick enough to stop its downward spiral.  If you can get to it fast and if your actions are simple, powerful and elegant, you can actually turn the first sign of bad into something that can build a level of loyalty.  Bad to good requires quick, nimble responses.

Your client experience should ALWAYS be a strategic priority.

The pull of Plan “B” might often be out of your control, but your response NEVER IS.

The Importance of Experience


Being a specialist does not guarantee you a full roster of clients, but great knowledge of your niche married with a fantastic client experience IS a winning combination. Very few businesses lend themselves to specialized niches more than real estate sales. The industry divides itself into very specific categories:


The list goes on and on. Then there are the never ending sub categories. In residential alone we have: single family homes, multi-family homes, condominiums and co-ops, and resort properties. Yikes! To make a statement and OWN your niche, you have to combine expertise, service, and a unique and powerful client experience.

Enter Whitetail Properties!

whitetail properties

Their specialty is hunting, fishing, and country homes in the heartland of America. You may have seen their show on HGT, Living Country, where they find dream properties for their clients. Now there are lots of real estate firms that specialize in country living, but the gang at Whitetail Properties have a dominate position. The reason, they create a connection between their knowledge, service, and a killer client experience.

Here’s what it looks like:

  1. They have an extensive meeting with their clients to identify everything they are looking for. Then, they ask secondary questions like, “What else have you dreamed about?” This opens the door to something beyond the desire for a country hunting and fishing home.
  2. Whitetail Properties then teams two realtors to develop properties for the clients in a kind of in-house competition. This creates a sense of urgency to the challenge of fitting the client to the property.
  3. The kicker, the key client experience piece is what gives Whitetail Properties their advantage. They CREATE an experience on each property that gives the perspective buyers a sense of what it might be like to live on the property. This might be a four wheeler excursion or a fishing trip to a pond on the property, or maybe camping on a ridge overlooking the properties stream. They take time to plan the excursion, to make it an adventure and it is always the piece that closes the deal.

This is a true client experience and by adding that one piece, the adventures, Whitetail Properties has put itself at the top of the real estate firms specializing in hunting, fishing, and farming properties.


So, what can you do? Put this idea to the test. Storyboard and sketch out ideas that can add a level of EXPERIENCE to your client interactions. Discover a way to add something that can take your client experience ONE LEVEL ABOVE and change the way your clients EXPERIENCE your service.

PS: The Whitetail Properties gang is so successful at their mission, that their branded merchandise is almost impossible to keep on the shelf. By having hats, shirts, and everything else that can hold their logo, they extend their brand beyond their niche!

Give Them What They Want.

On April 4th, the first movie blockbuster of 2014, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, hit the big screen. In fact, it opened in over 3,900 movie theaters and brought in a tidy $95 million, making it the biggest April movie release in history! Most movie-goers had what I would call, “The usual movie experience.”

  • You stood in line for a while.
  • You entered the lobby only to see the traditional concession stand.
  • You bought a Dr. Pepper and some popcorn.
  • You chose a seat and mindlessly viewed the endless series of commercials before the previews.

All in all, the same movie experience that has been around since 1894, UNLESS you went to one of the Alamo Drafthouse theaters. This Texas based movie house chain has taken the client experience and positioned it as their strategic cornerstone.




Can you focus on the client experience to the point of creating enough market separation and differentiation so as to stand out? Can your experience be deemed unique in a vanilla market? You already know the answer, it’s a resounding YES. Let me remind you, the client experience is YOURS to control, YOURS to design, YOURS to deliver and nothing that happens in your market can impact a strategic focus on how you treat your clients. Here is what they are saying about The Alamo Drafthouse and what a laser like focus on the experience can mean to a business:

  • Best Theater in America – Entertainment Weekly
  • Coolest Movie Theater in the World – Wired Magazine
  • Best Theater Ever – Time Magazine

Founder and head honcho Tim League decided the market would support a theater chain designed for movie lovers. Movie-goers would love to combine going out to dinner and then a movie at the SAME PLACE! The Alamo Drafthouse is a movie theater, eatery, and bar all in one. How do you confront a business that has fallen into an expected model? Here is how Tim and his team attacked the stodgy old movie theater market in a very focused and strategic manner.



Design creativity as a core element of the movie experience. They do everything from sing-along musicals to classic movie nights. They decorate the lobby with big movie themes. During Captain America they had a photographer who would shoot you holding Captain America’s shield. Then there is The Lord of the Rings feast, where all three movies are shown and seven meals of JRR Tolkien themed food is served (Sold out every time by the way) Their Rolling Road Show (using a portable projector and screen) has shown area themed movies worldwide. Their famous Butt-Numb-A-Thon is a 24 hour movie marathon.

Alamo Creativity


No Advertising!

You will not sit through a series of car commercials at the Alamo Drafthouse. Instead, keeping with their creative wit, you are treated to everything from Three Stooges shorts to theme related cartoons and old movie clips. One of my favorite things about going to the Alamo Drafthouse is the pre-movie show montage. I am NEVER disappointed.



No Talking. No Texting. PERIOD!

Lots of theaters say this but they MEAN IT! One warning and out you go. No refund. They go to great lengthys to introduce these two simple rules with hilarious short films or the manager comes in and addresses the audience. One of their recent kicked out customers called and left a profanity laced complaint that the good folks at the Alamo Drafthouse used as an advertisement on why you should see your movies there. (Check out the censored version here This went viral and Anderson Cooper called the Alamo Drafthouse ‘heroes in returning civility to the movies.’

dont talk


You are always challenged by the market, the competition, and the fight for business and sometimes the importance of the client experience is passed over. Our journey has been to keep a firm and critical focus on your client experience, looking for new ideas and opportunities to create business leverage in the things you control. Our job at Creative Ventures is to continue to open your mindes to the


Control Your Client Experience!

When you talk about an extraordinary client experience, you probably wouldn’t think of Texas BBQ. But, right there, in the Lone Star states number one form of cuisine you will find two time winner of the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for customer service, Rudy’s! The idea that a BBQ joint could join winners such as The Ritz Carlton and Xerox seems absurd, but an almost manic commitment to the idea that friendly people and a fantastic product can create a dynamic and unique client experience has positioned Rudy’s as a must visit eatery.


Ken Schiller and Brian Nolen opened the first Rudy’s in 1994 and went from a small gas station BBQ place to having over 400 employees and from $2 million to over $60 million in annual sales. As they grew they knew the incredible commitment it would take to maintain that small friendly atmosphere from the original restaurant. They follow a simple and powerful formula. 

How did a BBQ joint join the likes of the Ritz Carlton?

  • Keep Employees Happy – Happy employees translates to happy customers.
  • Train to a Desired Outcome – Yeah, it costs money to continually train, but the outcome is worth it EVERY TIME. EVERYONE gets 40 hours of training around their client experience and new managers receive 10 weeks of specific education around their responsibilities. 
  • You Are Accountable For Our Product and Our Service – PERIOD. Teams are graded weekly and fast feedback leads to effective coaching. 

The idea of a commitment to a great client experience is not reserved for the big corporate players, but is instead the playground of quality for EVERY business on the planet. 

It’s time to take control of YOUR client experience and create something that will separate and differentiate you from your competition. 

There are thousands of BBQ places in Texas, but there is only ONE Rudy’s.