In Praise of the Sandwich
There are a number of stories that refer to the creation of the sandwich. They vary in detail, but the basic facts are the same.
The 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, was playing cards (for money).
The 4th Earl of Sandwich became hungry.
The 4th Earl of Sandwich did not want to leave the card table.
The 4th Earl of Sandwich did not want to get his cards dirty.
The 4th Earl of Sandwich directed a waiter (or his butler) to place some roast beef between two slices of bread so he could eat and play cards without getting them greasy.
Voilà! The Sandwich. Likely the greatest achievement of the 4th Earl of Sandwich’s questionable career. 
Sandwiches are a now a popular dietary staple in many countries. Found in children’s lunch boxes, food courts/grab-and-go outlets, church teas, and, of course, casinos – sandwiches are ubiquitous. From fancy gourmet sandwiches to a humble tuna salad on white bread, the portability and endless variety of sandwiches has enabled their continued popularity.
So this fascinating anecdote about one of the great scoundrels of history and his edible legacy could introduce a number of blog discussions.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
It is possible to survive scandal and ignominy if you have an alternate claim to fame.
It is important to listen to your customers, because your customers will tell you what they want and need.
These are all really interesting topics, but today I want to write about the final option: why you should listen to your customers.
You likely have three of four things that are driving you crazy at work. I like the term “pain points” but there are lots of ways to describe the small issues that take up a disproportionate amount of your time and attention. Many of these issues can be fixed more easily than you might expect. And often, the solutions are already known by your front-line staff because they have heard the answers from your customers, as illustrated by the following example.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car picks its customers up and drives them home. The company claims this idea came from a front-line employee. No doubt the idea did originate with a front-line employee who was listening to the customers complain that paying for taxis or getting rides to pick-up their rental vehicles was a barrier to using the car rental service. By picking their customers up from home, work or the repair shop they were removing that barrier and building the relationship.
What a great idea! I have rented from Enterprise many times and I have always appreciated this service. On the rides to and from the branch I have been able to get to know the employees, making my relationship with the brand personal, thereby ensuring my loyalty.
Other rental companies started offering pick-up service as well. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, so the customer pick-up was clearly an idea that solved an industry-wide problem. Enterprise changed customer expectations and the other companies needed to respond to remain competitive. Of course, Enterprise’s differentiator or unique selling point (USP) is its excellent customer service, so the fact that the pick-up service originated there makes sense. The owners of Enterprise were willing to listen to employees representing the voice of the customer and make the necessary investments. The service must add value to the business, offsetting the extra labour costs, because Enterprise continues to offer customer pick-ups year after year.
Listening and responding will make your business stand out. Enterprise, for example has been a leader in customer response surveys. When I rent a car from Enterprise I usually receive a call afterwards asking how the service was. It is a quick survey and I am happy to do it because I believe Enterprise uses the feedback to keep their service standards high, particularly at a branch level. The call reminds me that customer satisfaction is their prime concern, reinforcing their value proposition.
Many of my clients send surveys to their customers to find out how successfully customer needs are being met. This is a great idea. Remember, if you ask for customer feedback, please make sure you communicate to customers how you are applying their insights. Communication is so important, yet it is something that we often take for granted. As businesses we forget to report to our customers. Of course you cannot act on every suggestion, and not every idea is a good idea or practical, but letting customers know when you do use their insights is key.
Today’s advice is to reflect on whether you and your staff have been listening to your customers and whether you have been acting on what you are hearing. Some of your best ideas can come from your customers — if you take the time to listen. Think of the sandwich – an idea that was good for the business as well as the customer – and the Enterprise pick-up.
Many of your most loyal customers are truly invested in your success. If the business works for them and they are loyal, then the business will succeed. Help them help you, by listening.
Finally, in the spirit of recognizing where good ideas come from and taking my own advice, I would like to recognize the loyal reader who shared the story of the sandwich and inspired today’s topic. Thank you Harry.