Just Feed Me!

Last month, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans and witnessing the 41st year of Jazzfest (a great music experience for those of you who enjoy outdoor concerts).   Based on a tip from a waitress at breakfast, we learned about a great restaurant that had earned the #1 rating on Trip Advisor and I was determined we would eat there sans reservation.


We found the Louisiana Bistro on relatively quiet Rue Dauphine, which was remarkable given that Bourbon Street craziness resides just one block away.    The place was tiny (we counted 12 tables) and bustling.  The menu was enticing with lots of choices that reflected French, Cajun and artistic approaches to cooking.   But what caught my eye was a little note at the bottom:  “Feed Me.”   Our waiter indicated that selecting this option means that the Chef comes to the table and “interviews” us about any food allergies, strong likes/dislikes, and how hungry we are.


Chef Mars came out, got to know our preferences, and then asked, “are we a go?”  This was sufficiently intriguing that we agreed to proceed…and had no other say in our meal except the wine.


The next two hours were full of surprises and a constant state of “what’s next?”   The table next to ours had also selected the Feed Me option, and each of their courses was entirely different from ours.   Chef Mars just goes back in the kitchen and creates, a culinary improv that keeps you guessing (including dessert and the the bill, which was a bargain given how fun and novel our dining experience became).    Unquestionably,  Louisiana Bistro gets a strong recommendation, especially for those who have already done the traditional fare of Commanders Palace, Mr. B’s, and the like.


This dining encounter proved very informative, and here are the key takeaways that I think are useful:


1.  Consumer endorsement   –  the fact that this was #1 rated by Trip Advisor rather than something you see in an airline magazine (eg, “Top Rated Steakhouses”) had significantly more weight and credibility.   In a world where we are flooded with options, knowing this place was highly rated “By the People, For the People” made it easy to conclude that since everyday people like me think the place is great, then it must be.   Those of you who have yet to take seriously the power of consumer ratings’ sites, take heed!


2.  Customization –  This restaurant has a fully customizable offering that changes the dynamic by putting control in the hands of the chef.  The ability to choose to let the chef choose was unique and memorable…something I will take away and recall months and years from now.  (I’ve already forgotten what we were served, by the way.)   No matter how “competitive” you believe your particular line of business is, I doubt that level exceeds the very cutthroat nature of being in the restaurant business. What can you do to add greater personalization  in a way that more fully differentiates your offering?


3.  Connection – The Chef’s offering allowed for greater customer intimacy via a more personal experience.  The place, the staff, and the food all were a direct reflection of the Chef and his attempt to connect his passion and skill with his customers.   He was actually a bit reserved, yet his personality gets revealed through his  photo gallery on the restaurant website.   I feel like I’m getting to know this person beyond his functional role of serving our meal.  What do you do to “extend” the experience and allow people to get to know you better as a person beyond your defined professional role?


In an era where authenticity is becoming the yardstick by which experiences are measured, paying attention to customer feedback, customization, and connection are all strong areas which warrant your care and feeding!

Ideas in Action: Babysitter Knows Best

December 2008

Babysitter Knows Best

You are What You Charge For

Figuring it out


In the world of commerce, there is a perplexing problem unique to those in the business of providing services (as opposed to tangible goods) to customers: how to value the specific service you offer. It’s tricky, because the temptation is to try to compete with similar providers on the basis of price, subscribing to the age-old adage “may the lowest bidder win.” While this might feel good to the customer (at least temporarily), it has the opposite effect on the provider. Most of what I hear from providers amounts to seller’s remorse: “I gave it away to get the business.” As a result, the service provider typically feels cheapened and compromised.


Babysitter Knows Best

For a moment, let’s visit a specific service provider that those of us with young children need from time- to-time: the babysitter.

Many of us recall as children those special occasions when time was spent with a babysitter while our parents went out for the evening. A generation later, my wife and I are probably even more dependent on this specific service to give us a few hours of much needed “R and R” away from our posts. As the person responsible for paying for this service upon our return, what typically happens next is a stroke of service provider genius: When I ask a new babysitter, “how much do we owe you?”, my question is answered by a shy glance to the kitchen floor and a gentle, “oh, whatever you think is appropriate.”

This vignette illustrates several aspects about defining value for services. The sitter doesn’t want to undervalue her services and therefore allows the customer to decide (an interesting strategy, indeed!). Mom and Dad are painfully aware of the difficulty in finding a trustworthy person to be with the kids (note to my mother-in-law: this only happens when Gram and Papa aren’t available). We don’t want to offend this precious resource, so we pay more than the going rate, especially if we sense it’s been a fun experience for our kids. We are also investing in futures, wanting to be at the top of this sitter’s client list when we will again need her sitting services.


You are What You Charge For

So, what value do you place on your services?

The answer to this question lies in the maxim offered by authors Pine and Gilmore in their book The Experience Economy: “You are what you charge for.” The fees you establish for your services are a direct reflection of what you believe those services that you provide are worth. A shrink (a.k.a. psychiatrist) might further interpret that those fees are an “indication of self” — self-worth, self-esteem, or self-loathing — but I’m not going there.

In a recent lecture, LASIK surgeon Steven Dell challenged colleagues on their pricing for refractive surgery: “Do you know what plastic surgeons charge for a ‘buttock lift’?” Curious to find out, I have learned that surgeon fees for this procedure average $3,700. If you add in the hospital fees, the cost to a consumer for having their derriere put back in place exceeds that of having their unaided vision restored.

You heard it right: we (meaning the entire marketplace) place greater value on the appearance of our backside than on our ability to see the world without corrective lenses. If you the cosmetic aspects of both procedures, one can sum it up as this: people are willing to pay more for how they sit than how they see. In my humble opinion, something’s wrong with that equation!


Figuring it out

It can be tough work to re-evaluate how you determined your fees in the first place, but that’s where the solution to this problem resides. Observe the world around you and you may notice what I’ve found to be true: It’s not about the money unless you make it about the money. The more common and generic your offering, the easier it is to compare on the basis of price alone. Conversely, the more unique and customized your offering, the harder it is to compare and the more valuable it becomes.

For a good example of this, check out the January 2007 issue of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Today and my column called The Secret Success of Starbucks. (hint: it’s not about the coffee).

Until next time, Happy Holidays! And enjoy that peppermint mocha!


Shareef Mahdavi
President, SM2 Consulting

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Building a World-Class Refractive Practice

Building a World-Class Refractive Practice


This event brings two dynamic teachers on stage together: John DiJulius, THE Authority on World-Class Customer Experience, and Shareef Mahdavi, Refractive Industry Expert.

John and Shareef teach clients how to increase the value of their offering (and stop “giving it away”) by paying attention to what people really want — an “above and beyond” customer experience that extends beyond a laser or IOL procedure. This is a critical component to refractive surgery practices that want to differentiate their offering rather than lower their prices due to competitive pressures.

Date: November 2008  – Length | 6:42 minutes

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Progression Of Economic Value (POEV)

Progression Of Economic Value (POEV) | Shareef Mahdavi


With the rise of the industrial age in the early 20th century also came automation and factories, whereby manufacturing was the predominant occupation. As farming became increasingly automated, workers migrated from the farm to the factory. At the peak of the industrial economy, 50% of the labor force worked making goods (ie, tangible things) in factories. Although the manufacturing-based economy flourished, it too became subject to increased productivity through automation. Where did those workers go? By the 1950s, the majority of the workforce was involved in a service-based economy, performing intangible activities on demand. With increases in productivity (for which we can thank the computer, among other things) came parallel increases in standards of living. As was the case for the transition from farming to the factory, people were again in a position of paying for services they once did for themselves, including lawn mowing, oil changing, house cleaning, and wedding planning. These few examples illustrate how entire industries emerged to provide services to consumers who were willing to pay for them.

Today, according to Pine and Gilmore, only 3% of the US workforce is involved in farming and just 12% in manufacturing. That means the rest of the United States—85% of the workforce—is part of the service economy. Just as with farming and manufacturing, the service economy is also becoming increasingly automated. How often do you visit a bank teller? Most of our banking is done by an automated teller machine. Voicemail now largely replaces secretaries who once took phone messages. Airplane tickets are purchased over the Internet rather than at travel agencies….

Refractive surgery is already a popular elective procedure; yet, it has more potential for growth. The key for surgeons is to recognize that they need to do a better job in the nonclinical aspects of offering the procedures. The framework and perspective of the Experience Economy brings to light what other retail industries are doing to more effectively compete and earn the consumer’s income. Rather than focus on advertising, refractive surgeons should shift their focus internally, improving their practices so that the experience becomes the marketing.

Date: November 2011  – Length | 9:06 minutes

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Participant Testimonials | Building a World-Class Refractive Practice

Participant Testimonials | Building a World-Class Refractive Practice


Listen to testimonials from participants of the “Building a World-Class Refractive Practice” seminar. This event brings two dynamic teachers on stage together: John DiJulius, THE Authority on World-Class Customer Experience, and Shareef Mahdavi, Refractive Industry Expert.

John and Shareef teach clients how to increase the value of their offering (and stop “giving it away”) by paying attention to what people really want — an “above and beyond” customer experience that extends beyond a laser or IOL procedure. This is a critical component to refractive surgery practices that want to differentiate their offering rather than lower their prices due to competitive pressures.

Date: November 2008  – Length | 8:09 minutes

Book Shareef Mahdavi To Speak