Strange but true: Chocolate tastes better when you eat it in the presence of someone else who’s also eating chocolate. This weird factoid is courtesy of researchers in Yale’s psychology department, who recently conducted an experiment in which some of the study subjects (an easy position to fill, I'm guessing!) ate chocolate alone, and others ate it in the presence of other chocolate-eating subjects. The subjects who ate their chocolate in pairs rated their chocolate as tasting better than the subjects who ate their chocolate in private; this finding held true even if both people eating chocolate failed to share a single word of conversation. As the study’s authors summarize, “Sharing an experience with another person, [even] without communicating, amplifies one’s experience.”
Embracing this “better together” principle can help you build an improved customer experience and a stronger brand. Whatever your service or your product, it likely improves in “taste” if it’s experienced by two or more of your customers together.
Applying this principle will require a change of mindset for many of us who are in business. Not that we don’t think about creating relationships in our businesses, but the type of relationship we usually focus on developing is between proprietor and customer. Though such relationships are immensely important, the other kind of relationship, of the “chocolate tastes better when we eat it together” variety, can be at least as powerful a way of binding a customer to your business. When your business facilitates connection between your customer and the people your customer cares most about, you’re providing a powerful and long-lasting reason for that customer to keep doing business with you.
Recently, the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain encouraged its customers to ditch their cell phones during mealtimes, going so far as to reward them with ice cream if they managed to get through the whole meal with their phones locked up in a special “cell phone coop.” (Which was not, by the way, Chick-fil-A’s first stage-setting for relationships; its Daddy-Daughter Date Night is a similar Chick-Fil-A tradition that is similarly popular.) And, of course, outdoor sporting goods retailer REI has made waves since 2015 by encouraging its customers and employees to “go out and play” on Black Friday instead of coming in to shop.
In healthcare, Mayo Clinic has changed the design its buildings and even its furniture to encourage relationships, building larger rooms for doctor-patient consultations so their families and loved ones can attend, and installing custom-built furniture that comfortably allows everyone to have a seat.
The hairstyling powerhouse Drybar builds a group sharing opportunity right into its booking app: If you want to encourage your girlfriends to join you for the hair blowout appointment you’re making, the opportunity to do that is right on the app.
And there was my flight this morning on Southwest Airlines, where the flight crew cheerily gave a bottle of Champagne to a couple that was flying off to get married. This was a particularly powerful gesture, I thought, because it not only celebrated the relationship of the couple, but let the rest of the passengers celebrate this connection as well.
Appropriately, those in the chocolate business itself have long embraced this principle, to massive commercial success from coast to coast. Examples include Pennsylvania-based Hershey with its Hersheypark family amusement park (and the “there’s nothing like the face of a kid eating a Hershey bar” marketing, featuring children munching as adoring parents look on), and San Francisco-based Ghirardelli, with its shareable sundae experience at the Ghirardelli chocolate and ice cream emporiums.
The connections you’re fostering don’t have to happen via dramatic gestures or Hollywood-grade marketing jingles. They benefit as much from the subtle actions of attentive employees who turn the music down when they see guests trying to talk, or are scrupulous to avoid interrupting in the middle of an intimate discussion to ask how the burger is tasting. Or, take your cue from the employees of the Subway sandwich shop franchise near my house who daily put out (and faithfully keep full) a water bowl for those customers who are sharing their Subway errand with a faithful canine companion.
Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, speaker, author, and thought leader.
For more on this topic, read NewVoiceMedia's whitepaper, Disruptive customer care: how to do it every day.