To immerse yourself in what good customer experience design looks like, one need to go no further than the Riviera Barber Shop in Redondo Beach, California. I used to view getting a haircut as a mundane task that had to be endured like mowing the lawn or renewing my drivers’ license. That all changed after my first visit with Johnny.
If you call for an appointment, you will usually get the intimating tattooed Tommy or the rockabilly Steve Buscemi clone Johnny on the horn. In either case you will likely get the same upbeat response: “yea, come on down buddy….we’re not too busy.”
They are usually very busy and the parking stinks. Riviera is not especially cheap, nor is it especially fast, and it is kind of inconvenient for me to get to since I live in Arkansas. So why do I and many others love the place?
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Because they create an emotionally engaging experience that is authentic, memorable, and personal.
The guys at Riviera have created an entire servicescape that is aligned with their brand. Outside is an antique barber pole and red bench which usually cradles a waiting customer smoking a cigarette. Walking through the chronically broken screen door entrance you are greeted by a life-size wooden cigar Indian. Vintage Time and Life magazines are scattered about and the walls are plastered with a bizarre array of photos from the 1920s through the 1980s.
No one is in a hurry. Sit, read a magazine, and relax. Thirsty? There is an ice box with complimentary Cokes and Coronas, and if it’s Friday help yourself to a snoot of Don Julio. Mike Ness would be well at home here. A classic and powerful behavioral setting if ever there was one.
However, what really drives the experience are the barbers. The punk rockabilly meets beach bum barbershop floor is their stage and they are the stars. They banter. They joke. They share their world views and advice. They are performers, high end professionals, and therapists rolled into one.
They are a group of professionals who are great at what they do and clearly love it. I never knew that a shave and haircut could be such a high end experience. Johnny, Luis, Tommy, and the rest of the crew at Riviera have truly created something special from the mundane.
What can be learned from this?
First, it is a good exemplar of how to create a powerful brand. Some companies take too narrow a view of their brand. Functional thinking predominates in the belief they are selling a car or a meal or a hotel room or gasoline. In reality, what companies are offering to their customer is an experience. That experience is part of every single touch point a customer has directly or indirectly with the brand. Unfortunately, many companies tend to be siloed into disparate channels such as in-store, online, and call center which makes them look at their business in that binned way.
The promise of omni-channel is breaking down those barriers which is good, but we need to do more than just coordinate our communication. We need to be thoughtful about how the overall experience is designed and executed. Riviera Barber Shop isn’t just just about cutting hair; it’s about good music like Social Distortion and Frank Sinatra and Dodgers baseball when there’s a game. It’s about the innane chatter about celebrities, sport figures, and politicians. Verbal posturing, sparring, and general trash talking among the barbers are features. Johnny and his crew create a total organic experience for their customers without even realizing it.
Which brings me to my second point. Brand experiences are tough to engineer without the most important raw ingredients: the right people. You can have all the technology, processes, training, incentives, facilities, and job aids and still fall flat on delivering a holistic brand experience.
Getting the right people to make the brand come alive is key. Without those talented folks at center stage, the result is at best an animatronic facsimile or at worst an empty stage. In selecting people it’s not just hiring for the right skills, you need to get the right cultural fit and make sure they are engaged. Employees shouldn’t live the brand, they should be the brand.
Steve Jobs once said “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” The guys are Riviera clearly do. They are not passive passengers working in a barbershop, they are the brand. They create an experience well beyond a simple haircut with their verbal jousting, music selection, pet squirrel, baseball preferences, and occasionally some good spirited profanity. It doesn’t hurt they deliver in spades on their core service: an awesome shave and haircut.
Even if a franchised store could attain the same quality, it would run the risk of losing authenticity. It absolutely can be done, but needs to be carefully nurtured to scale. I can’t wait to go back, my hair is getting kind of shaggy and the elections are coming up…Tommy and Johnny may have an opinion.