tale of two burritos

Customer service makes or breaks a business and good enough just isn’t. This weekend, I ended up having burritos from two competing franchises. Let’s call them Good Burrito and Better Burrito. Both offer super fresh ingredients, make them with specifically the ingredients and toppings you ask for, are pretty quick, and are very tasty. I never really thought about the differences until sampling them back to back.

Good Burrito asked what toppings I wanted and shuffled me from person to person as the burrito moved down the line. By the end of the line, three different people had contributed to my dinner. Henry Ford would be proud of the assembly line efficiency. Better Burrito had one person who put my food together and what a difference that one person made.

Supergregarious, he seemed to truly be interested in my day. How was my Saturday going, was I working or off, where did I work, did I like it there? When adding ingredients he’d brag on them a little: These vegetables are great, we cook them with… You can’t go wrong with that salsa, it’s great on everything…

A couple of important points. This took NO MORE time, in fact it was probably quicker because I didn’t have to repeat what I wanted like I did when getting passed from person to person at Good Burrito. He never got bogged down in the conversation. I never felt like I was being interrogated. It never felt fake or forced. Instead he gave the impression that he was really interested in my day and in making me the perfect burrito.

Then when I got to the register to pay I asked to get a brownie. The woman at the register (also superfriendly) said, “Let me find you a good one. They put the old ones on top.” And she dug through the basket until she found one. It looked like all the others, but she proclaimed it worthy. When I decided to get a brownie to take home for my wife, she dug through the basket again.

Here’s the most important point: Whether they cared about me, my day, and my lunch doesn’t matter. What matters is that they made me feel like they did. It took no more time, cost no more money, and made all the difference.

The HR and business lessons I take from this:

Hire right! Here’s the secret to hiring people: hire people who give a damn. Nothing else matters unless they care. If they care, the rest is largely irrelevant.  I’ll take under qualified people who care over qualified but apathetic people any day. Qualified and they give a damn? Score! I suspect that the guy making my burrito was following a semi-scripted patter. But he was so fluid and did it so well that it came across as very authentic. And, he was clearly a very outgoing person and a good fit for a customer facing role. The woman at the register went out of her way to find a good brownie. It’s hard to train people to care or go above and beyond. Much easier to hire for it.

Train right. Again, I suspect that much of it was patter, but done so well it felt natural, not forced. That requires a lot of practice, role playing, feedback, more practice, etc.

Think twice about your dress code. Employees at both places were clean and well groomed. Except that the three workers I saw at Better Burrito had long hair (male), blond dreadlocks (female), purple hair (female), and a heavy emphasis on tattoos and face piercings. And they were supernice, not too cool for you, not angsty, not indifferent. Let’s see, person who gives a damn and has nose rings or one who is unpierced and indifferent? Hmmm, easy choice.

Sustained business performance requires great customer service. Great customer services requires great people. Great people requires an intense focus on hiring right and training well. That requires leadership that truly gets the DIRECT connection between people and performance.

The final lesson? Great customer service trounces good customer service every time. Good enough customer service never is.


  1. Great post and so very true! This weekend I attended a speakers boot camp out of town. Based on the different experiences I had along the way, there is a cab company I will NEVER call again, an airline I love because the people who work there really seem to love the opportunity to make their customers walk off the plane with a smile on their face, and a hotel that I would absolutely go back to. Not because it’s the newest or the poshest hotel but because every employee I met went out of their way to make sure I was enjoying my stay. When I heard the way the front office supervisor was interacting with his team during shift change, I understood why. He treated his team members the same way they ended up treating their customers. When leaders hire right, invest in training and model the behaviour they expect from their team, good service can become great service.


    1. Hi Laurie, I’ve heard it said that the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience and your examples support that idea. I’m a customer service fanatic and I’m starting to believe that the gaps between ok, good, and great customer service are far bigger than I ever suspected. Thanks so much for giving your perspective.


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