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They have you at “hello.”

When you walk into any branch of the Massachusetts-based Clover restaurant chain, you’re greeted by a concierge of sorts. It’s a proper warm welcome, not the mumbled “hello” or perfunctory nod of acknowledgement that seems to be the norm at fast-food chains nowadays. The Clover Guide helps customers navigate the large menu screen on the wall. (The hi-tech screen includes details such as how long it took the kitchen crew to prepare the most recently ordered items on the menu.) Each guide has a handheld tablet that can dial up images of each item on the menu as they answer questions about the ingredients in Clover’s locally sourced healthy and delicious food. The Clover Guide takes your name and inputs your order into a tablet.

I’ve long been a fan of Clover’s vegetarian fare, which includes a Chickpea fritter sandwich that is the zenith of all falafels.

So I was surprised when, recently, I ate a Clover entrée that disappointed me (even though the side items were delicious). After the meal, I walked over to the Clover Guide to let her know that the texture of the dish was subpar. She listened compassionately and told me to email the company my feedback. The Clover Guide mentioned that the company loves hearing from customers and evolve their menu in-part based on feedback. “Ok,” I thought. “I’ll try offering feedback.”

I found an email address on the company website and sent off an email about my experience. Get this—I received a reply within 2 hours! Ok, that got my attention. But wait, it gets better, the email had a kind and empathetic tone; they wanted to make things right with me. (Thank you Clover.) They offered me a chance to join one of their many customer-feedback breakfasts. All I had to do was sign up, show up, and get free breakfast. Um, yes, please. I had to check this out.

I couldn’t believe they cared this much about customers to invest in having staff provide a timely reply, then to thank those who give feedback with an in-person event. Wow, I’ve never heard of that.

It was a great breakfast and a fun experience that was attended by their CEO, COO, and other key team members. The COO made an effort to approach customers and say hello. (Company founder Ayr Muir hopped behind the counter to help the kitchen staff with the larger-than-usual volume of breakfast traffic too.) The COO listened to my food experience and explained how that could have happened with their fresh made food. Good to know.

But I want you to know that Clover is a model of intentionally designed great experiences.

Here is what I imagine is part of their intentional experience design:

  1. Hiring people who have empathy, who care, who like customers, and love good food. (This takes an intentional interviewing and hiring process and in food service, that is hard given all the competition for good staff in Boston.) From my experience in running a call center, I know you cannot train for “nice,” you can only train for hard skills such as using the tablets to place orders.
  2. Policies that allow employees to offer a good experience. For example, they are allowed time to talk to customers (while in line), they want to make sure you are happy with your food selection, time to talk about the food, where it’s sourced, how it’s made and more. (They know it’s not about how fast the order is processed, but how the customer feels about the food and their experience.)
  3. Policies allow employees to make things right. Based on their judgement, not based on a time-consuming approval process. (Like my email that immediately offered restitution.)
  4. The whole team, from the front-line to the back-office, all really care about their business and its vision. The company wants to “build a better food future” by offering environmentally friendly, vegetarian-based food that even meat eaters will enjoy. I witnessed this mission focus during my conversations with the CEO, COO, marketing and other team members I met at the breakfast. You could hear their dedication and care.

I learned, not surprisingly, that this business has a large base of customer evangelists. Yes, it is because of the delicious food (I just had a one-off bad item), the casual and comfortable dining experience and the overall customer experience. Research proves that customers flock to (and return to) experience that are a delight. That is Clover.

It’s great food, a powerful, well-designed experience and you can call me a Clover advocate!

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