Two cod cubes; the margin between success and failure in customer experience

My world is customer strategy. I help brands ensure they understand what makes their customers tick, how to ensure their customer experience is right and develop propositions which resonate with their customers for the right reasons.

As anyone in the customer experience space knows, the energy and effort is often in improving the operational capabilities and marketing communications. These are controllable factors which can be managed and the value of improvement correlated to overall success.


However, there is a more influential dynamic which will either support changes required or hinder it depending on two factors:

1. How deep-rooted customer-centricity is across all layers of the business

2. The alignment of the Employee Experience to the desired Customer Experience

Policy before people at Wagamama

And it is with these two points I refer with my recent experience of Wagamama. Until now, I’ve been a fan. In fact, my wife and I have spent as much time in Wagamama restaurants as any other chain. Whilst we knew they had a children’s menu we’d commented before that they didn’t seem to really get what a dining experience for children should be. But whilst up in London for a trip to The Shard, we decided we would introduce our children to the experience anyway.  

After our 72 floor viewing experience we walked along the Southbank and found Wagamama as planned (I’d looked on-line the previous day and checked a few things over again such as location and children’s menu). We settled in and ordered our meals. Our two and a half-year old can be contrary so we ordered him a chicken rice dish which we knew he would like, but of course as soon as his brother’s cod cube and rice dish arrived, he wanted that instead. Our fault for not ordering the same I accept.

So we asked the waitress,would it be at all possible to have one or two extra cod cubes to put in his dish to satisfy his envy. The waitress grimaced at the request and said she would have to check with the manager to see what the policy was. I was a little astounded to find there was a policy making department at Wagamama’s who would gather council to draw up service level agreements for such requests! But if policy it be, policy must be checked I thought. Confident of the outcome we carried on eating.

cod cubes 2

Why didn’t our other son offer his cubes up? Well he did. But as anyone who ever remembers what being a young child is like, that’s never going to be a satisfactory alternative.

We decided to order another full meal for our son. But then as we chatted with the two neighbouring families they convinced us that we shouldn’t have to do that. So instead we cancelled it and decided not to have desserts either. And the family by us said they doubted they’d come back because it highlighted to them Wagamama doesn’t really do families.

Perhaps to give away cod cubes here and there does hit the bottom line too hard. If so my blog is floored, but thinking about the long game there was a lot of ‘conversation’ and subsequent ‘WoM’ because of this and not for the things Wagamama would want to be remembered for. So as a collective of three families I’d guess our NPS sat around 70 and 80 before the experience. But after cod cube-gate Wagamama managed to take our score down to around minus 30 (school of guesstimate). For what, perhaps 10p profit? And if anyone tells me that Wagamama did give them a little extra for nothing, it would only make this experience worse.

The gold medal goes to Leeds Castle

Rewind three days and we had a family trip to Leeds Castle. We went to the restaurant for lunch. It was a hot plate buffet/carvery type arrangement and someone greeted us on the door to explain this which was helpful. The waitress showed us the children’s menu which looked great. We explained our two-year old (there is a theme here) probably wouldn’t eat a whole child’s portion. The waitress said she would make us up a half child’s portion and ask the lady on the till to put it through as two bread and butters as that would be about half the cost. Bingo – easy.  

leeds castle

They also offered us a wet day pass which meant for the price we paid we could return anytime for free because it was raining. A great initiative we weren’t expecting but we will undoubtedly return now and almost certainly eat in the restaurant and spend in the gift shop again. That’s thinking about the long game and mitigating for what they can’t control (the weather) because it impacts your brand’s customer experience.

I think I’d have normally shrugged the Wagamama experience off. But because the entire table felt it was a petty policy and because a few days earlier we had a very different positive experience at Leeds Castle, it stuck. That’s all it takes to lose a customer.

As a customer experience consultant it also reaffirmed to me the challenges brands have in ensuring the investment into operational excellence and communication cut-through isn’t wasted. Unless the employees understand what ‘putting customers at the heart of the business’ means, everything else won’t work.

Leeds Castle 5 Wagamama 0

Posted by Christopher Brooks

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.

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Who we work with…clients mar 2013

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