Customer Experience and a Fish Sandwich

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Yesterday I decided to get out of the office and grab lunch at one of my favorite places in Pittsburgh, Wholey’s.  I have been going to Wholey’s for years, and I truly love the experience.  Fresh fish is what they are known for and at reasonable prices.  I love everything about Wholey’s – the atmosphere, the smell, the Pittsburgh grit.  Most of all I love how no matter how much in the world changes, when I walk through those red doors, it’s still the same.  It’s about the food and nothing else.  Wholey’s is everything that is great about Pittsburgh.

I grabbed a Big Whaler Fish sandwich, of course, and I went upstairs to eat away from the crowd.  When I got up there one of the owners was there, a member of the Wholey family.  He introduced himself then asked a question I was not quite ready for:

“Can I taste a piece of your fish?” He asked me.  So without hesitation, I broke him off a large piece of the fish and he took a taste.  He confirmed it was good, and stated, “I’ve worked my whole life for that sandwich, and I hope you like it.”  He continued to tell us that it’s an entire pound of fish sourced in British Columbia, and they are proud of the price point of $6.99.  It was a good discussion.  He walked away, and I finished my lunch.  It was clear customers and customer satisfaction meant everything to him.

I did question why an owner of Wholey’s would ask a customer for a bite of their fish sandwich like I was a member of their family.  Why didn’t he just get his own fish sandwich?  He owns the place right?  I shrugged it off then went about my day, catching the bus back to the office.

Then two things came to me:

1. He did in fact consider me family.  They treat their customers like family – and that is why they have been in business for over 100 years, because their customers are family to them.  I gave him a piece of my sandwich, and he would have done the same if I had asked him.

2. He was testing the experience in a real environment.  If he asked for a sandwich from the kitchen, the staff would have used the best fish, the best batter, clean oil, etc.  He wanted to see what the experience was like for a real customer.  He wanted to experience what his customers experience and wanted to ensure it was up to his standards.

This reminded me that when we are designing experiences for our customers to make sure they are designed with the customer in mind, and when they are tested to test them in as real of an environment as possible.  Amaze, delight, and surprise.  It’s the Wholey’s way.  And I am betting they will be around for another 100 years if they make sure that experience stays amazing.

You can learn a lot if you get up from your desk every once in a while and take a walk to Wholey’s in the strip.

Chris Lovett



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