Who Ordered the King Salmon?


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How many times has this happened to you? You settle into a comfortable booth at the hot new restaurant in town with your partner and two of her favorite friends who are in town, and after reviewing the mouth-watering menu the King salmon spoke to you. Your partner and her friends ordered other fascinating main courses and all of you decided to skip appetizers. The waiter departs quietly to enable you to get to know each other.

Twenty minutes later, deep in stories about how your partner met her friends, the server arrives and asks, “So who ordered the salmon?” All four of you stop, turn to him, and say at the same time, that you had ordered the salmon. Conversation flow, stopped.

Really? Why did the server interrupt the conversation with that question? It’s not too hard to figure this out! Well-run restaurants with outstanding reputations for great customer experiences never have to ask that question. It’s quite simple. The waiter notes that the guest to the left is #1 and then runs clockwise through your party to #X, passes this to the server(s), and the meal arrives without ceremony.

Clearly this restaurant didn’t follow this process, and it didn’t know the importance of the 1st of the 7 Customer Needs1 – “You know me, you remember me” and two of its “Sub-Needs” that we call “You never have to ask me for something you already know” and “You know me and mine.” Doesn’t it bother you when you encounter this “Who ordered the salmon?” It sure bugs me! Let’s break this down and apply it to our broader customer experiences.

In my recently published book I added this story. Checking into a hotel (in Oslo), I overheard the clerk next to mine ask the guest next to me “Is this the first time you’ve stayed with us?” We stated that this is another dumb question. If you had been a regular guest, wouldn’t you want to be recognized with “Welcome back!” The hotel’s reservations system ought to know if you had stayed at that property, or other hotels in the chain, and prompted the clerk to ask “Welcome back!” or “Looks like this is your first stay here, can I tell you about our hotel?”

Let’s get into the 21st Century, folks! Doesn’t it impress you when Amazon opens with “Welcome [your name]” and then offers products based on other customers’ purchases (“Customers like you ….”)? Of course it does! We all want to be recognized, and appreciated, especially in this era of homogenization.

How do we make this work? It all starts with some form of MDM (Master Data Management) and “omni-channel” customer data records, not just providing the right prompts to check-in clerks or customer service reps or bank tellers (or web sites) but also providing personalized service that each of us deserves across all channels; for our restaurant that means the waiter and the server. These decision rules boil down to what I like to call “segments of one” (after my good friends Don Peppers and Martha Rogers’ “one to one marketing”). Following this path enables your customer-facing employees to greet, and treat, customers and guests with “seamless” service.

Recently in Minnetonka, Minnesota I chaired the 27th meeting of the Global Operations Council (GOC, a group of companies that “share best practices and worst experiences”, and after day one we dined at Jimmy’s Food and Cocktails, selected by the GOC meeting host UnitedHealthcare. We had two waitresses for the 20 of us, and the four servers approached our tables and quietly placed the appetizers and entrees in front of all of us without interrupting our discussions. Now that’s Me2B service!

So keep this in mind: “You know me, you remember me”, the 1st of 7 essential “Customer Needs” that companies have to address in order to deliver great “Me2B” experiences, includes several “Sub-Needs” that your business could benefit from applying: “You never ask me something twice” and “You know me and mine”1.

1. Here are the 7 Customer Needs that Lead to a Winning “Me2B”Culture:

  1. “You know me, you remember me”
  2. “You give me choices”
  3. “You make it easy for me”
  4. “You value me”
  5. “You trust me”
  6. “You surprise me with stuff that I can’t imagine”
  7. “You help me better, you help me do more”
Bill Price

Bill Price is the President of Driva Solutions (a customer service and customer experience consultancy), an Advisor to Antuit, co-founded the LimeBridge Global Alliance, chairs the Global Operations Council, teaches at the University of Washington and Stanford MBA programs, and is the lead author of The Best Service is No Service and Your Customer Rules! Bill served as Amazon.com's first Global VP of Customer Service and held senior positions at MCI, ACP, and McKinsey. Bill graduated from Dartmouth (BA) and Stanford (MBA).


  1. Bill – the waitstaff transgression you refer to has a name in the trade: “auctioning the meal,” as a friend who had a short gig as a mystery customer told me. It’s annoying to the point that the restaurant asked her to be alert to the behavior, and to deduct points from the score if it occurred.

    As far as the hotel . . . as I read your vignette, I considered a darker example that must be considered: Imagine that the guest DID stay at the Oslo hotel two months earlier – with his girlfriend. This time, he shows up at the desk with his wife, and he’s greeted with “welcome back.” The wife asks about the curious greeting because her husband regularly travels to Copenhagen. Was this a side trip? – We know this happens more than a few times. Why put guests at peril with a nicety that can be easily replaced?

    In that situation, being asked “Is this the first time you’ve stayed with us?” would be most welcome. “But of course!”

    A 360 degree customer view can be a great thing for customer service – until it becomes TMI.

  2. Very good points, Andy! Another one of the “sub-needs” in my new “Me2B” book is that companies need to “Know when I don’t want to be known”, and that applies to the hotel case you cited. I like “auctioning the meal”, too!


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