March 5, 2020

Customer experience and truffles

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customer experience lessons from a truffle hunt
Meet Billa, truffle experience superstar extraordinaire.

Even the best customer experience has never convinced me to like the taste of truffles.

But I always wondered whether my taste perception would change, if I actually hunted them myself. Would the customer experience of finding the food, transform its taste. Or would I still continue my track record of baffling Italian cooks around the world.

A Tuscan adventure

So after some research and asking around, I found a Tuscan family of wine and olive oil producers, who also owned a truffle hunting license. For a modest contribution, they let city folks like myself experience the thrill of hunting for their own truffles. As I was speaking at an event in Firenze anyway, I decided to join them and their lovely dogs Billa and Billo for a day in the woods.

The day itself was amazing and quite educational. High quality truffles easily can fetch € 4000/kilo and considering the time that goes into finding only a handful, it’s easy to understand why. Especially as only a small portion of the harvest meets the high quality standards. The rest is sold cheaply for processing in oils and pastes.

So what was the verdict?

Did my customer experience make me like truffles better than before?

The answer is a resounding YES. I don’t know if it was because the walk had given me a special appetite, but I really liked the freshly harvested white truffles A LOT. Especially when they were combined with a Chianti from the same land.

Though our guide did point out that this was no guarantee that I’d like them going forward, as restaurant truffles are of varying quality and definitely not as fresh as what I had on the day.

So the jury is still out. And next time I dine Italian, I’ll just have to find out.

Customer experience design lessons to remember

Beyond giving me a happy memory and a full belly, the experience taught me three things:

The story that goes with the food matters.

I didn’t just eat truffles. I had the truffles which I discovered together with our hosts, Daniele and Daniela. Which were dug up by their excited little doggo’s Billa and Billo. Which were accompanied by wine from their own vineyard.

So when you serve up food , don’t just focus on the presentation or the dish. Make the stories about the origins of the ingredients part of the customer experience. Tell them about the people, the land, the quirky little histories. The right story can lift the perceived quality of any dish to a much higher level.

Doing-it-yourself improves the customer experience

Being honest, I didn’t really do much during the truffle hunt. Most of the time was spent taking in the gorgeous Chianti countryside and talking to our guide. Meanwhile, the dogs did most of the work. But I felt as if I had hunted these truffles myself. This this made them taste even better than they already did.

So don’t hesitate to put your customers or guests to work as well. Keep it light and fun, but the more they invest their own efforts in the end result, the higher the likelihood is that they’ll enjoy the experience.

Think of your business model

The great news is that I found truffles that I liked. But I also know that, from now on, no truffle will ever compare to my memory. So even if that top Italian chef serves me their best truffles, I’m bound to reminisce.

For our Tuscan hosts, this doesn’t really matter. Their model is to give foreigners like myself a great one-off experience and get them to tell others about it. But I’d argue that with some good online marketing, they could have turned me into a truffle and wine customer for life.

So if you’re in a business where you want to deliver exceptional customer experiences, consider this. By all means create those memories for a lifetime. But also think of a way to monetise them in the long run. Don’t just stop at a one-off, but find a way to turn them into a long-term relationship.

I’m doing research into transformative experience design. To be practical instead of academic, this means I regularly seek out experiences which are remarkable, intriguing but also uncomfortable and sometimes plain weird. I’ll summarise my lessons in a series of blog posts. If you’d like to know more, please reach out.

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