Desires We Didn’t Know We Had…

I’ve never been to Paris. Then again, a lot of people I know who’ve been to Paris have never been to the city they expected. No encircling fog, no Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron (or at least Keanu Reeves and Diane Keaton). I’ve heard the experience was hollow for some: Yes, the cafés, the cigarettes dangling from mouths, the trying-too-hard-to-be-unhurried elegance was there, but no deep, soul-tugging romance. Such high expectations, and then the experience is that of a city like many others (with a unique style, mais oui).

Perhaps this is the fault of those expectations.

When I was a young adult, living in New Jersey, I used to go to New York City to party with friends on a semi-regular basis. Since this was usually more about the friends than about the party itself, there were plenty of grungy low-rent apartments (“arty” of course), dive bars, and long walks (who could afford a cab?). They weren’t “the best days of my life,” but they were great days, the sort of memories you are supposed to store up for nostalgic looks in the rear-view mirror.

I remember one breezy night in October. It was a rare night when we drove everywhere: windows rolled down, music perfect, full of ourselves. We began the evening at a friend’s favorite bar on Staten Island; made our way to Soho and drank some more; went on to an after-hours club in Brooklyn, and after that we drove around, looking out at the silent streets of 3 a.m. for the next thrill. (Hugh McLeod could back me up on this. I think he has similar whisky-soaked memories of foggy New York streets and after-hours parties with delightfully spy-like ways of getting in.)

In spite of the hour, the lights were blazing in a little shop on a corner, under an elevated train track. It was a bakery, and through the open windows it filled the whole car with the scent of fresh bread. We parked, and four of us got out. I think we just wanted to have a look, but who am I kidding? After the night we’d had, we were starved.

There was a small door propped open, and a baker dragging a cart of bread through to a waiting truck. “Go on in,” he said. Their display shelves were only partly stocked, but with the kitchen door open the scent was incredible. Typical of New York, you could hear conversations in several languages going on back there, none of which we could understand. It was like a scene from a movie—a dozen employees, rushed but happy, smiling out at us but far too busy to stop and ask what we were doing there.

The baker, a small man with a thick eastern European accent, came back in with four smallish loaves of bread. “Two dollars,” he said, “and have a beautiful morning.”

We left the car there for a while, walking, warming our hands with the hot loaves, and munching away. When we came back their shelves were nearly filled with all sorts of goodies, and the little man waved at us as we piled in and drove away.

I never drove back to that area with those three friends again. Wouldn’t I love to tell you that I became their most loyal customer, and give you their name! It was absolutely a Maximum Customer Experience, after all. Over the years I’ve tried on my own to locate that corner under the tracks without success. If you reach back I think you’ll find you also have a memory like this one. The Experience was created in part by a lack of expectation; by desires we didn’t know we had, being fulfilled. It was all the wonder and discovery and the romance of Paris—our own “secret” discovery right there in NYC.

Welcome and truly understand all your customers.

Q: When Is the Experience of New York All You’d Expect From Paris?

A: At 3 a.m., in the rear-view mirror.

How can you create an Experience for your customers that lasts like this?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson