"What keeps you up at night? "A bad service." - Thomas Keller
I've become very interested in 'design thinking' and experiences lately. Certainly, it was a common theme in Steve Jobs's life. As I've devoured Icason's biography on Jobs, some of the parts I've been most drawn to focus on his attention to detail over experience. Setting his flaws aside, and he had many, he insisted on perfection, not just with the physical aspects of his products, but how people interact with them. The Apple stores are a great example. He obsessed over the glass details, the color of the stone on the floors and even the font on the bathroom signs. He believed that attention to how people interact with Apple and its products was a differentiator. I think he was right.
I'm about as passionately devoted to all things Thomas Keller as I am all things Apple. Keller is known throughout the food world as the only chef with two Michellin stared restaurants. Keller, like Jobs, is obsessed with details; not only the details of his food, but of the diners experience.
In this recent CBS profile and interview, you get a taste of Keller's appreciation for experience. I'm convinced he is one of the few other leaders who truly understands the importance of designing for experience.
Last month, I was in Las Vegas. I'm not much of a gambler, but I do love to eat. Keller has a less formal set of restaurants called Bouchon. Bouchon locations are based on classic french brasseries. It did not disappoint. I had the opportunity to chat with one of the bartenders - it's my custom to sit at the bar when I'm traveling and eating alone. I asked what, if any, special training they had regarding service. "Well, it's interesting," he started, "so we make our own bitters and infused spirits, and we use this green masking tape to label them. Keller insists we cut the tape with a razor blade rather than rip it. Diners will never see these things, but he still wants it to be perfect."
It took me a while to understand how his answer related to service. In talks I give, I often use a picture from the Per Se kitchen I took when we ate there and toured it in 2008. In each kitchen, Keller mounts a plaque which reads: Sense of Urgency. Our waiter and Per Se tour guide explained it. "In everything you do, wether it's putting sauce on a plate or folding a diner's napkin, do it like its the most important, the only, task in your life." Trimming the masking tape with a razor is the same thing. If you take the time to do it precisely, you'll also take the time to make the drink precisely.
Dining at a Keller restaurant is a complete experience. It's not about the food alone. In fact, given the prices of a meal at his flagships, the expectation is of a stellar meal. If you had anything less, you'd leave questioning it. The differentiator, the thing that takes it from amazing food to memorial experience is the combination of the service, details, ambiance and food. Each dish is put on the exact right plate, for example. The size and shape is not only a compliment to the food, but how you are supposed to perceive it. Something whimsical and playful, like crispy fried pigs tail (hey, this vegetarian thing is a recent change), comes on a curved, wavy dish. Something fancy and formal like "oysters and pearls" gets a more elegant treatment. And that's all by design.
How often do we design for experience in healthcare? There is a lot of emphasis on process design, particularly with lean and six sigma tactics. But do we really design things around how patients and visitors interact with our spaces and services? It's virtually guaranteed that a phrase like 'excellent clinical care' is in almost every hospital's mission statement, and even more certainly its marketing. But isn't excellent clinical care the baseline expectation of everyone who walks in? I know I never expect to be treated incompetently. I'm not suggesting we stop focusing on safety and clinical quality. I just think we need to give some serious thought to everything else - the spaces, the service, the process, the ebb and flow, the details, the look and feel, the ambiance. We need to design our products and services with the end user in mind.