Service design and the delicateness of brand experience

I went to a wine bar in London’s Borough Market last night. Not a 1980s style wine bar but a French style wine bar. You know the one, with old wooden tables and rickety mismatched chairs, peeling plaster, candle light – a kind of remake of some 1920s Paris establishment where James Joyce, Henry Miller and F.Scott Fitzgerald hung out.

Well, that’s the brand experience of the service they have designed that I initially got and was relatively happy with. I had a template for this type of place ( from my imagination informed by penguin novels and Hollywood films) and it felt comfortable.

So I ordered a bottle of wine and settled down in the corner for a merry time when crash/ bang/wallop! I spotted something out of the corner of my eye!

And there they were, two tables away from me! A set of 4 chairs which like a short circuit catapulted me out of paris circa 1920 and completely broke my suspension of disbelief with the brand experience. Here were 4 chairs from some Next Home 1990s dining room set much like you might still find in the show house of some newly built Barrat Home Estate. And with them came tumbling down my belief in the bar, the people who ran the bar, the quality of the wine and pricing.

This may sound harsh, and it is, but this change in my experience was not a conscious decision – it was incongruence in the flow of my unconscious acceptance of a story the bar had set up. Like the accidental appearance of a digital watch in a film set in 2000 BC, those chairs had changed everything for me. I believed no more!

I think what this story demonstrates ( other than me being very sensitive to these things) is that the brand experience you set up needs to be consistent and congruent across all touch points. If you allow your customers to see the ‘matrix’ as it were, you risk them popping out of the brand experience and breaking their willing suspension of disbelief. And once that happens you have lost the value and are just commodity service.

[there is a mash-up experience that could work between a 1920s Paris bar and Barrat home – but this would require the creation of an innovative new wine bar experience template. Unfortunately this isn’t it.]

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