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Honest Burgers: What Happened Next 🍔
The one where it all changed
A few months ago, I wrote an article about how much I loved Honest Burgers.
It may be the best article I’ve ever written. Why? Because now, everybody wants to go there with me. Every meeting invite is annotated with ‘shall we go get a Plant Burger with Bacon?’, and every response from me is a big resounding ‘yes!’.
Admittedly, this isn’t great for my waistline. But you’ve got to have brand consistency, right?
However, since writing the article, things have changed a bit. So I thought I should share the sequel, and what more it’s taught me about creating a genuinely human customer experience.
As you’d expect, the team at The Foundation know the team at our local Honest Burgers branch quite well. We laughed about the article, got our own table, and debated whether I now have my own ‘special’.
So, we were pretty upset when we heard the manager was leaving – and with her, most of her team. Of course, roles in hospitality change regularly, so it wasn’t unexpected. But what happened next was.
The photos started coming down off the walls. The music started to change. The plants started to disappear. Things that I thought were part of the Honest Burgers’ branding were, it turns out, actually created by the team.
Then, on my first visit with the new team in place, I ordered my slightly odd usual - the vegan Plant Burger, with bacon. It took quite a while, and after twenty minutes, the waiter appeared and said:
‘Sorry sir, the chef has just asked me to check, did you really mean REAL bacon with your plant burger?’
To say I was distraught is an understatement.
You see, it turns out that it wasn’t the brand that I’d built the relationship with, but the people. It wasn’t Honest Burgers I was recommending; it was Liz, and her team.
It was Liz who, for the last four years, had created the atmosphere and the culture of the restaurant. Who had made it feel homely, bringing in her own plants and photos, who had given the team permission to laugh and joke with customers, and who had recruited people who she believed were the kind of people who want to give a great experience.
Of course, there’s still lots I love about the place. It still has, I think, the best burgers. They still do the local specials. They’re still transparent about their farming practices. They also deserve a lot of credit for empowering their team, giving colleagues the freedom to create their own environment, to give their branch a personality that might be different from the next one you go into. As such, I’m sure the new team will, in time, create their own experience (and, I think, are already getting used to my diva-ish burger demands).
Whenever I talk about customer loyalty, I make the point that loyalty only ever really exists with people - usually friends or family, and sometimes community, whether they be geographic (your town) or tribal (your football team). That’s why organisations find it so hard to create truly loyal customers, often seen as faceless corporations with impersonal communication.
If organisations allow their people to be people, their humans to act in a human way, and give them the freedom and space to be themselves, then (and only then) do they stand a chance of customers forming that kind of deep relationship that could be described as loyalty.
But even then, the loyalty remains with the person, not the place. So, whilst I’ll still be going to Honest Burger, I might start broadening my horizons.
Gordon Ramsey’s Street Burgers, anyone?