Subway Offers Both Extremes of Customer Experience

Jay Leno and I both enjoy Subway. While I can’t speak for Jay, I can tell you why I like it. They offer relatively healthy food fast and at a fair price.  And, usually you get the same experience no matter where you are.The Subway in Montgomeryville, PA offers the same basic experience as the one in LaJolla, CA.

There is value in this.  It brings familiarity and comfort to people. It’s nice to know what to expect and then get it, whether you’re at home or 1,000 miles away. And if you get a little more than you want and expect, the odds are you’ll go back and you’ll tell others about it. The consistency will build loyalty. That loyalty can reinforce the quality and consistency. It becomes a virtuous circle.

But what happens when, as a customer, you come to expect a very high level of consistency and you don’t get it? How might that affect your loyalty? For example, last week I was driving home from a speaking engagement. It was around lunch time so I stopped at the nearest Subway.

When I entered the restaurant I was surprised. There was nobody behind the counter. That’s rare. At Subway I don’t expect someone to yell at me like they do at Jimmie John’s. But I do expect a friendly greeting from behind their food bar. Then I stepped closer to the “Place Order Here” sign and I was shocked. The lettuce bin was almost empty. There were only a few lonely green tomato slices left. Mayo was slopped all over the counter. And they had no chocolate chip cookies. None. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Finally an employee appeared. I asked her about the cookie situation. She said there were some “pieces” of chocolate chip cookies but no “whole ones.”

“Pieces?” I inquired. “Yeah. That’s all we have right now” she replied.

It was about 1:00 pm on a Thursday. This Subway was in a small town in northern Minnesota near a major highway. I don’t know what kind of lunch rush they had but it must have been debilitating. The place was a mess. What’s worse was the employee acted like this was the norm. Like everything was “A-Okay”.

I politely removed myself which was no easy task as I was STARVING and I had no idea how long I’d have to drive to find a suitable alternative. But there was no way I was going to eat there.

About 30 miles down the road I did find a better lunch option. It too was a Subway. And it too offered me an experience I had not had before at a Subway.

The first thing that caught my attention was how friendly the employees were. They had fun with each other and with customers. The lady who helped me seemed to genuinely enjoy her job.

Then she did something I had never experienced before. She asked if I would be eating in my car. I said yes but wondered why she asked. I soon learned why. Because I would be eating in my car she added an extra napkin. And she threw in a moist towelette. She chatted with me the whole time. Then she thanked me for stopping by and bid me farewell.

This second experience was as positive as the first one was negative. And it was just as memorable. It’s a good thing too because it replaced (for the most part) the bad one. What amazed me is that these were the worst and best Subway experiences I had ever had and they happened with 30 minutes of each other.

So how will this affect my customer loyalty?

If I had only had the bad experience, my loyalty might go down. I wouldn’t stop being a customer but I would remember the “bad incident”. And any other negative experiences with Subway would add to it. It would take a lot of average experiences to push it from my memory.

But because I had a great experience soon after, it’s more likely to be remembered. I’ll talk about both but I’ll end with the good experience. It’s more memorable. In my case, a great experience will far outweigh a negative one. It strengthens my loyalty significantly.

What about you? Would your customer loyalty change because of these two experiences? Why or why not?