In a move that I can only describe as genius, Olive Garden restaurants and My Gym children’s fitness centers partnered to give weary parents free babysitting and a well-deserved night out on February 7th 2014. Olive Garden, a restaurant chain that has struggled in recent years, clearly understands that for diners, parents or not, going out to dinner starts way before you get to the restaurant.

To get the free babysitting, parents would call one of the 145 participating My Gym locations to reserve a spot for each of their children and make a deposit. Each location could manage 30 kids. The parents would drop them off, go to dinner, and return after dinner to pick up the kids. The deposit was then returned to the parent, once they showed their Olive Garden receipt.

Olive Garden tried the promotion to boost declining sales. They had already revised their menu to include smaller plates and even added a burger, in an effort to compete with other chains in their tier. These changes had not yet produced the results they were hoping to get. So the new “Free Date Night” promo is their latest effort to attract diners to their restaurants.

I applaud this creativity. My children are now grown, but I remember back in the day how rare a night out could be. By the time you locate, book and pay a sitter, you didn’t have much energy (or money) left to go out. Parents are likely to forgo a date night to avoid the expense and the hassle.

By providing a resource for customers that eliminates the hassles of procuring a sitter and even picking up the tab, Olive Garden is making it easier for parents to say yes to date night. And in many cases, driving them to spend that date night at Olive Garden, a restaurant that they may have passed on otherwise.

This is exactly the point we are always making when we discuss Journey Mapping with our clients. A customer’s experience starts way before they come into contact with your organization. They also come in feeling a certain way, so that will color their interpretation of their experience. One of the most common mistakes in Journey mapping is not to take these factors in to account. That’s why we always encourage our clients to do a more comprehensive approach to their customer experience mapping, Moment Mapping.

Moment mapping not only looks at the Customer journey, but also designs an emotional engaging journey. One of the critical parts of this exercise help our clients to define where the experience begins (as well as where it ends) for their customers. It also helps clients understand what emotions are driving their customers when they arrive at the experience. This information makes it easier to come up with a strategy that helps our client design a way to mange these emotions and evoke the emotions for their organization that build customer loyalty and retention.

The two emotions that most customers associate with their best customer experiences are “happy and pleased.” Olive Garden and My Gym are likely to produce both of these emotions for their customers by eliminating the “finding a sitter” task of the Date Night experience for parents. This is an example of extending the experience.

In today’s competitive market, it is important to consider how you can extend your customer experience to attract business. Hotels begin their experience by offering shuttle service to and from the airport. Some malls with parking hassles will provide valet parking to reduce the stress that shoppers may feel from fighting for a space in the lot. Airlines allow you to check in and print boarding passes to facilitate a smoother travel experience for you at the airport. All of these are great examples of extending your service before the experience to help facilitate a better customer experience once they are there.

At this point, I don’t know if the promotions were successful. I do know that the Facebook page got 163,370 likes and nearly 7000 shares. In a context of social media, this is a very successful promotion. I hope that the promotion was successful so we can continue to see this kind of innovation and creativity from other organizations designed to extend their experience for their customers.


Olive Garden: Dinner Starts Way Before You Get to the Restaurant by Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin has been recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top 150 Business Influencers in the world.  He is an international author of four best-selling books on Customer Experience. Colin’s company, Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.

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