My business partner, John Patterson and I were en route to a meeting and stopped for lunch on the run.  We are major fans of McDonald’s French fries—the absolute best on the planet.  We also enjoy the salads at Chick-fil-A.  Luckily the two fast-food restaurants were right next door to each other.

We parked between the two and walked first into Mickey D’s for the fries.  It was much like a human vending machine—fast, accurate and functional.  But, the Chick-fil-A experience was completely different!  You could feel the upbeat warmth as you opened their door.  The counter person smiled and greeted us with, “Thank you for being our guests; what can I tempt you with today!”  Every employee had the same hosting spirit.

As we were leaving, John asked an employee, “How come this is so different than over there.”  He pointed at the golden arches.  “Oh,” she said with a grin, “Over there, they serve customers but over here we are host to our guests.”  We nudged her a bit to try and push past the easy clichés and cheerleader optimism.   Spotting our bootlegged fries, she continued: “Well, over there you just get the fries.  But, here we give you a great experience.  You may not remember those French fries tomorrow; but we hope you will remember your visit with us, even if you forget what you ordered.”

Innovative hosting is different than regular good customer service.  And, it is far more than simply the friendly, helpful attitude of the server.  You have been to okay parties and you have been to really great parties.  McDonald’s was an okay party; Chick-fil-A was really great.  At McDonald’s we got the exact outcome we sought—great fries, fairly priced and served quickly without a hassle.  But, Chick-fil-A made us look forward to our next return.  One was a bit like an effective elevator; the other more like a joyful theme park.

The impact of innovative hosting is not for everyone.  I have a colleague whose idea of the perfect hotel check-in is to have no conversation with anyone, get a room key as quickly as possible, and by-pass any semblance of people or a front counter.   She also does her taxes on-line, lives alone in a high rise, has more pets than friends, and spends her Saturday evenings at the public library.  I’m just kidding about that last part!   But, you get my point!  Customers are different in how they define great service.

Most customers today, however, are not like my friend, Jennifer.  More and more, customers use their experience to gauge whether they received their money’s worth.  They still want a fair-priced product or outcome they can trust.  But, except for Jennifer, the price and the product are simply the ticket to get into the service game.  Winning is about the experience.  And, the “hostess with most-est” is the one who creates an experience that gets people talking…just like you do the day after a terrific party.