It’s the Simple Things

A brand experience lesson from the Ballard Wendy’s

In Seattle, when the sun is out, the boats come out to play. So, yesterday, the Ballard Bridge was up a lot. If you lived in this part of Seattle, you’d understand what that means—a ton of traffic backups.

Unfortunately, yesterday was also a busy errand day for me, and before I knew it, it was 1:30 p.m. and I hadn’t had any lunch. My original plan was to drive back to my home in the Magnolia neighborhood, which is just over the bridge, but after sitting in traffic for a good 10 minutes, I ditched that plan and pulled into the Ballard Wendy’s.

I’m not a big fan of fast food, but sometimes you just need a quick, cheap bite, and generally Wendy’s fits the bill best for me. I like the variety of their menu, and the chili is a guilty pleasure. I also like the homey vibe, and I love the hidden “mom” in their new logo (even if it was unintentional).

But honestly, this is not a post to puff up Wendy’s. I’m not a fan boy. And I’m aware of the debates and controversies surrounding the fast food industry, from wage issues to health issues.

No, this post is about someone that works for Wendy’s, the surprising and delightful service he gave, and the way in which brand experience is really about human experience…and it all started with a dropped Frosty.

“I’ve got it.”

Those were the words I heard when the girl in front of me dropped her Frosty in the carpet. A well-dressed man in suit slacks and a tailored dress shirt hopped up from the back of the restaurant and jumped into action. We’ll call him Joe. Joe quickly got a new Frosty for the girl, and asked for a towel from the woman working the cash register behind the counter.
“Is this your store?” I asked.

“I’m with the ownership group,” Joe said.

“How many stores do you own?”

“Oh, I just work for the owners, but there are twenty-six stores. Great owners, and great people,” he said, gesturing towards the team behind the counter.

I was surprised. Joe carried himself like an owner, so I had assumed he was the owner.

As I sat down, he came over with the towel and got down on his hands and knees, in his nice clothing, and cleaned up the spilt Frosty. The girl behind the counter had volunteered to clean it up, but Joe waved her off with a smile and said, “I’ve got it.”
And while he was cleaning up the mess, he started chatting with me again. Did I come to the store often? I told him no, but when I did fast food, I liked that Wendy’s had some better food options health-wise than others. He then told me about some of the healthier options on the menu, what he liked to eat since he ate fast food a lot, and what his wife liked to eat too.

As he finished cleaning up, I thanked him for his time and suggestions, and watched as he interacted congenially with his staff and other customers, including the girl who dropped her Frosty and her mother. “You should have seen the look on her face when she dropped that Frosty,” he said to the mom. “I just had to get her a new one!”

It was a level of customer service and care that was refreshing to watch.

It was clear to me that Joe “got it.”

Lived values

Now, did Joe do anything revolutionary? Not really. But he was genuine, human, and caring. He got the little things right. And it’s the little things that add up to the big thing—happy customers and great brand experiences.

It was clear to me that Joe was committed to providing great customer service, took pride in his work, and knew that good leadership meant being willing to clean up Frosty in your suit pants instead of making someone else who was further down the ladder do it. I immediately liked Joe.

This got me thinking about Wendy’s as an organization. Was Joe an anomaly, or did the company have values and a culture that fostered this kind of ownership. So, today, I spent some time on their corporate website and found this:

When everyday people sort through all the ‘spin’ there is one quick-service restaurant that is ‘A Cut Above’… that’s Wendy’s … we stand for honest food … higher quality, fresh, wholesome food … prepared when you order it … prepared by Wendy’s kind of people … people that believe this is My Wendy’s … we do it Dave’s Way … we don’t cut corners. (My emphasis)

I found it interesting that I initially mistook Joe as an owner because he treated the store like it was his through his demeanor and actions. He truly believed it was his Wendy’s. In short, he was living out Wendy’s values, and in the process created a very human moment.

A good brand experience is one that rings true. You can have great design and stores, and you can create an incredible product, but if you don’t know why you exist, what your values are, and have people working with you that live out those values, your brand experience will fall short.

Authenticity isn’t always that easy to come by, so when you run into it, even in unexpected places like the Ballard Wendy’s, it makes an impression.

I don’t eat fast food often, but when I do, I’ll be doing it at the Ballard Wendy’s. Why? Because now it’s not just one place among many. It’s Joe’s place, and I like Joe.