#TBT: The Nacho Paradox

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: The Nacho Paradox.

Years ago, we had an event for sale on the Goldstar site that was a concert by a well-known classic rock band in a dinner club that held about 1,000 people. It might have been Styx.

“buffet,” © 2008 nabemakitchen, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

Anyway, both the act and the venue were well-known to people, and seemingly, not much could go wrong. We sold a lot of tickets and expected good feedback and happy members when the event was over.

But that’s not how it worked out.

Because, as an add-on, the venue had decided to put out a free buffet. In fact, they’d pulled out all the stops and decided to put out some pretty nice food. Thinking this would be purely additive to the appeal of the event (and therefore the happiness of the patrons), we simply added that info to the event description on the site.

Sure enough, people liked the idea of having a buffet meal before the show, especially at no added cost.

In fact, people liked it so much that they all showed up early, and for anyone who came just an hour before the show, there wasn’t much left. “Just a few stale nachos,” is how one woman put it, I believe.

This illustrates two things you should always bear in mind:

The first and most basic point is that you can do almost everything right, and you can tell yourself that you’re doing all the main things right (like ticket price, the performance on the stage, convenient ticket pickup), but if customers encounter something second-rate, it can affect their view of the whole experience.

Food is a common pitfall, but it could be a lot of things. Dirty bathrooms. Rude or overly officious staff. Parking that’s either thoughtlessly inconvenient or overpriced. A scheduled 15-minute intermission that lasts 25 minutes.

In other words, if it’s important to the customer, you’d better own it. If it’s not right, do your best to make it right.

The second point is less intuitive, but in some ways more powerful:

Perception minus Expectation equals Satisfaction.

That is, the difference between what you feel like you got versus what you thought you were going to get determines how happy you are with your purchase.

Many’s the time I’ve been to In-N-Out Burger and walked out very happy with my meal. They’re exceeding my expectations of fast food, pretty much every time. On the other hand, if that exact same meal were served to me in a beautiful setting with white tablecloths and at $50 per person, I’d enjoy it a lot less.

Photo Credit: Herson Rodriguez via Unsplash

This is the Nacho Paradox. You gave me something extra, but then you disappointed me about it. I was excited to get the extra thing from you, but when you didn’t come through, I thought less of the whole experience.

And, from a customer service point of view, the solution to this is the Upside Surprise. Put out a buffet not as a marketing tool, but as a satisfaction and retention tool. Don’t tell anybody about it to entice them to come unless you’re going to guarantee that it’s done right down to the last patron through the door.

And even then, springing an Upside Surprise on people keeps their Expectations where they were, while increasing their Perception of value, therefore increasing their Satisfaction.

The lesson we learned at Goldstar was that unless food is at the heart of the event (like sushi tasting or a food show), we only mentioned it in passing, if at all. Since we don’t control the event content itself (and since venues typically do their shows better than their food), we minimize expectations in that area so that the food, if it’s any good, can be an Upside Surprise.

But if you’re producing the show, you can do more. First, you can assure that all the little extras are done well. Or you can cut them out altogether so you don’t disappoint, much the way Southwest Airlines cuts out the meal service, because let’s face it, airline food has a long, rich history of disappointing people.

Finally, you can manage expectations and increase satisfaction by treating those extras as an Upside Surprise.

And if you do, you’ll be the master of the Nacho Paradox.

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