20 years, 7,300 Diet Cokes and one leadership lesson

It’s not about the Diet Coke.

I reminded 200 general managers from across the globe this when I recently spoke at a leadership conference for Wendy’s.

You see, my wife’s grandmother has been going to Wendy’s every single day for more than 20 years. Yes, every day. When she pulls into their drive-thru, the Wendy’s employees just wave her up to the window. They already know what she wants. And always with giant smiles, they hand her the drink they knew she came for. 7,300 times… and then some.

Without much consideration, one might believe she’s just there for the Diet Coke.

She’s not. There are plenty of places to get Diet Coke. In fact, there are more economical and efficient ways to experience Diet Coke. But it’s not about the Diet Coke.

Just ask her why she goes every day. I did. She responded quickly.

“They are my people,” she said. “They know my name. I want to go see them.”

She’s there to be delighted. She’s as loyal a customer as any business could hope for, and it is because they have been delighting her in small ways every single day for two decades. What they don’t know is that their delight carried her through her husband’s battle with cancer and, eventually, his death. They were her people. Always there. Always ready. Always smiling. Her outlet.

Too many companies are so focused on their product or service that they miss the everyday opportunities to delight those around them. A small shift in thinking could have enormous impact on their daily interactions — and ultimately their bottom line.

So, what are the best leaders, teams and organizations doing to proactively delight every customer they come into contact with? Here are three ways the best are doing it right:

  • Slow down. It’s not a race to the next sale or next transaction. The best associates at the best places look you in the eyes. They ask “What may I get started for you?” They remind you that serving you is their pleasure. And they may even take the time to learn your name and call you by it.
  • Define delight. Delight is not about perfection or never making a mistake or the ability to win over customers that won’t ever be satisfied by anything. Delight is a mindset. It’s looking for small ways to bring joy, ease and care to another human being. The best places help train their employees to think this way and reward them for spreading that spirit.
  • Feed the culture. The most successful organizations recognize that those who are delighted are much more likely to delight others. So, the best leaders and teams intentionally find ways to delight their team members and feed the culture they are trying to create. They know that one of their secrets to success is the development and care of the people within their walls. We are more likely to make an impact externally on others when we have been fed internally by those around us.

In fact, delight may well be the secret sauce in crafting a positive culture. Every day, the culture of your team, your company, your family, your friendships, your community — everything you’re a part of — is being shaped. And it’s being shaped whether you realize it or not. How is it shaped? By the way people in your group think, act and interact. Sure, leaders must be involved and engaged in leading culture creation, and leading it every single day. But people at all levels want to be active participants in creating that culture. And they should be.

Delight is a simple but spectacular place to start. Every associate at every company has the ability to delight. Perhaps it’s delighting a coworker, an employee, a boss. Perhaps it’s delighting a customer. Perhaps it’s delighting a potential customer. Perhaps it’s just carrying himself or herself in a way that delights others in his or her wake. Empowering people to delight others — and rewarding them when they do — doesn’t (or shouldn’t) require complicated infrastructures or endless meetings. It’s simple, really: Make someone happy today. Then tell us how you did it. Over time, see what it feels like. See what it does. See whether, 20 years later, you have a customer coming back for that one simple reason.

I invite you to think about how you and your team are delighting each other and the people around you. In what new ways could you move from a transactional interaction to one of delight?

It’s not about the Diet Coke. It’s about the experience.

Make it meaningful.

Jason V. Barger is a globally celebrated keynote speaker, leadership coach and author of “Thermostat Cultures,” “Step Back from the Baggage Claim” and “ReMember.” He is founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, a Columbus-based company that works with businesses and organizations worldwide.