B2B companies are waking up to the importance of world-class customer experience. We can look to the consumer world to understand what good looks like and how you can deliver it.

In a previous article, SBI explained the importance of CMOs taking ownership of the Customer Life Cycle. If you already agree with its importance, your next two questions are likely:


  • “What does great look like?”
  • “How do I deliver it?”


While there are great B2B examples, if we want to understand what this looks like at a world-class level, we must look beyond our domain. Let’s examine great Customer Experience at the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group (TKRG), by observing a meal at their Flagship Restaurant, The French Laundry, in Yountville, CA. Who says benchmarking can’t be fun?


The French Laundry Customer Journey


Having pursued a reservation for 15 years, we were walking in with high expectations. We feared that there was very little room to exceed those expectations. Below, you will see some of the most memorable touchpoints of this Customer Journey.




The first touch was making the reservation itself. Approximately a week before our arrival, we received an unexpected confirmation call. This was comforting because the restaurant proactively confirmed their knowledge of my wife’s allergy. We arrived early and toured the vegetable garden. By creating a multi-sensory experience, we could see the level of care that they took with the simplest of ingredients. When we finally checked in, we received a warm greeting from the hostess along with “Happy Anniversary.” She escorted us to a flawlessly set table, with their signature clothespin.


The Service


Shortly after sitting down, we were greeted by Diane, our server. We were presented customized menus, with “Happy Anniversary” printed on them. Throughout the service, she was clearly in charge but was seamlessly supported by several colleagues. To the trained observer we know there is tight coordination between front of house and back of the house to deliver this orchestrated journey. Each food course and wine pairing is a touchpoint worth exploring. We’re going to examine the “Soft Boiled Rhode Island Hen Egg” through the lens of the classic Customer Experience book, the Experience Economy. While written in 1999, this book introduced some timeless principles on how we can think of the evolution of customer expectations:


Commodity: Two ingredients which both meet the economic definition of a commodity were present, eggs and black truffles. Eggs are among the simplest of ingredients, but The French Laundry elevates these through their chicken coop in their garden. They even explained how this breed of chicken produces the highest quality eggs. Truffles are at the other end of the spectrum, and must be expertly sourced, but have not yet been transformed.


Good: Eggs can be quickly transformed in any local diner, and you can likely request these “soft boiled.” However, this presentation goes beyond, with an airy texture that creates the perfect complement to the rich black truffles.


Service: Like other courses, the course was plated beautifully by the kitchen, and delivery coordinated by the front of the house team. The truffles were presented in a beautiful wooden box. We would smell them from the side of the table.


Experience: What put this over the top, was the truffle shaving experience. It was a fun presentation as a copious amount were shaved over the eggs. The smell expanded to fill the table. Tables around us couldn’t help but watch and listen. This experience captured all five senses and was transformed into something unique. This was one of several examples where our already high expectations were exceeded. It is worth noting that The French Laundry captured the incremental value of this touchpoint through a menu “supplement.”


Post Experience


A very large, albeit, handwritten check was presented along with the nicest restaurant pen we have ever seen. While these might be small details, they are memorable. We also received a signed copy of our menu and some shortbread cookies to go. Diane offered us the chance to tour the kitchen, and we jumped on it. We were expecting some level of noise, but it was serene. Despite a busy service, there was no yelling, but there was clear communication you could carry a conversation in a whisper. We asked Diane about this, and she mentioned that it was part of their culture, and they work with a “determined focus.”



Overall, the level of preparation was evident, but it didn’t feel scripted. There was professional yet authentic warmth in all of the interactions. Everything felt orchestrated yet harmonized to our pace.


How the French Laundry Delivered this Journey


Grant Achatz, Chef at Alinea, had previously worked at the French Laundry. In his book Life on the Line, he described his background and what he learned from Chef Keller. Looking through our lens, let’s examine what he shared about his experience and what you can translate to your business.




Because the TKRG has a wide variety of restaurants, they can hire to different levels, and have an excellent track record of promoting from within. Great B2B commercial organizations do this, with Lead Development Reps moving into Inside Sales roles, and ultimately into field sales roles. However, the French Laundry does recruit and hire nationally, and this is how Chef Aschatz came to the French Laundry. However, it was more than a simple application and interview. Chef Achatz did a two-week “stage” where he effectively auditioned as one of the line cooks. This was an opportunity to verify, beyond a cursory interview, whether his skills were up to par. As part of this, you are also observing the individual’s coachability. Are they improving their skills?




Executing an experience of this level requires near perfect timing. There is more to do during service than is possible. The team has to be as focused on the “backstage” work during prep, including their “mise en place” (put in place) that ensures everything needed during the service is within easy reach. The analogy for a sales professional is a good call plan, which prepares for the expected case and contingencies so that in the moment of the sales call, he/she can be present and focus on delivering for the Customer or Prospect.




An additional benefit of the “stage”/job trial is you can see how well an individual fits in the culture. Ultimately, this culture focused on delivering a world-class experience to every guest, every time and must be reinforced every day. The “determined focus” we observed was a reflection of this culture. The fact that we experienced all of this on a day where Chef Keller was not at the French Laundry makes it that much more impressive.


How Can You Deliver World Class Customer Experience?


To deliver superior CX, you must architect the Customer’s Journey and flawlessly execute at each touchpoint. This requires the right Processes, Skills, and Culture. You can design the right processes, and you can build the skills, but you must hire for the skills and culture you need to succeed. In the culinary world, a technique called “staging” is used, which monitors fit for skills and culture but can be replicated in the B2B world via a job trial. In the B2B world, we recommend a “job trial” for your key revenue growth positions (In the Experience Economy, this is referred to as an audition). Download our Job Trial Evaluation Tool to bring this powerful tool into your firm. To start or continue your customer experience transformation, contact us to schedule time with one of our experts in the SBI Studio.


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Fred Penteado

Guides private equity portfolio companies in a variety of industries on how to make their number.

Prior to joining SBI, Fred held a variety of leadership positions with multinational Fortune 50 companies. He has worked in product/program/channel management, sales operations, and served as a Chief of Staff.



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