Olive Garden Salad & Breadsticks — Or, the Same Experience Everywhere

20 Jul 2016 by Technomics

Nothing’s more comfortable than the familiar — that’s why predictability for the user experience is so important. Consistency is key when it comes to brand loyalty and truly building a relationship with the customer that goes beyond the checkout and into the purchasing cycle.

Spend some time with BlueMetal’s Brian Short and Dan Casey to learn how branding, design and user experience have impacted IT, from app development and beyond.

Note: Complete audio transcript found after author info.

Headshot of Dan Casey

Dan Casey

As BlueMetal’s creative director of strategy and design, Dan leads the practice and oversees the delivery and quality of work done by his team of digital strategists and user experience and visual designers.

Headshot of Brian Short

Brian Short

Brian, a programmer and development manager, is currently a practice director at BlueMetal, where he leads the open-source and Java practice. He is also very involved in the local open-source community.

Audio transcript:

Episode 4 – Olive Garden Salad & Breadsticks – Or, the Same Experience Everywhere

Published July 20, 2016


Announcer: You're listening Technomics. Connecting you to insights on digital transformation and the marketplace, with your hosts: Robyn Itule and Jeremy Nelson. The hosts' opinions are their own. Enjoy the show!

Robyn Itule: Hey Jeremy, how are you?

Jeremy Nelson: I'm doing great Robyn, glad to be on another Technomics.

Robyn Itule: Its been a fun week, we've had a lot of really good conversations.

Jeremy Nelson: It has, I've really, really enjoyed this.

Robyn Itule: So I have a personal question for you.

Jeremy Nelson: Oh boy.

Robyn Itule: Do you like Olive Garden?

Jeremy Nelson: I love Olive Garden.

Robyn Itule: I mean who doesn't.

Jeremy Nelson: Exactly.

Robyn Itule: LIke I figure that was a forgone conclusion.

Jeremy Nelson: Oh that's an easy one.

Robyn Itule: Okay so favorite thing there?

Jeremy Nelson: So I love the ziti. The five-cheese ziti, can't go wrong.

Robyn Itule: Okay, I was so expecting you to just say breadsticks. Because I'm pretty sure there's no human on the planet who is immune to the alure of an Olive Garden breadstick. By the way, not sponsoring this episode, not a technology company.

Jeremy Nelson: But still tasty, tasty food.

Robyn Itule: Absolutely. And the other great thing about breadsticks, people are like, "When are they going to talk about technology." Like we just lost 50% of our audience because of this.

Jeremy Nelson: Or we just gained 50%.

Robyn Itule: Again, because we've established that everybody loves breadsticks so they're enraptured by this whole conversation.

Jeremy Nelson: Absolutely.

Robyn Itule: I'm going to bring it around to a point now. Which is, if you go into any Olive Garden, the salad and breadsticks and that delicious five-cheese ziti.

Jeremy Nelson: Oh yeah.

Robyn Itule: Always the same right?

Jeremy Nelson: Always the same.

Robyn Itule: You know what you're getting.

Jeremy Nelson: Yup.

Robyn Itule: So how is this at all technology related? Cause if I go to a website or any kind of application, I would really, really like it to be the same. And I am pretty sure I am not alone in that. But it’s not always easy to create the same experience everywhere. There's a lot of thought and stragegy going into it.

Jeremy Nelson: Yeah cause at the same time, you want it to be similar, you want it to be easy and adaptable. But, you need to stand out somehow.

Robyn Itule: Oh and let's not forget how many different form factors you have to account for. That is not easy to try and get your wearables and your tablets and your desktop and your internet environment to all look and feel alike. Predictability's pretty delicious.

Jeremy Nelson: It is.

Robyn Itule: Dan Casey and Brian Short are some of the best minds that we have around designing for user experience. And they're going to join us on the show today because they are so much fun to talk to. And they know just boatloads. Dan and Brian when we return on Technomics.


Robyn Itule: And now a word from our sponsor. Engaging your customers with modern technology requires a modern platform and infrastructure. Enter Microsoft Azure.

Jeremy Nelson: All right. I have to stop you right there, Robyn. Is it AZ-ure or Az-URE.

Robyn Itule: You know we had this conversation in season one. And I believe what we landed on is, it is about the color, which is in fact AZ-ure.

Jeremy Nelson: Awesome, I’m glad that’s finally put to rest.

Robyn Itule: Although now I’ve said it so many times I feel like I’m saying it weird.

Jeremy Nelson: It’s like spoon.

Robyn Itule: We digress. The important message that you need to take away from this sponsorship is that with Azure, you can build faster, move quicker, and empower your organization to reach new heights. If you contact an Insight specialist, they can help you find out how implementing Azure will open up a new realm of possibility.


Robyn Itule: Alright so to help us talk about predictability, especially for in store, online, mobile, we have two of our really, really talented teammates from the Boston office, Dan Casey and Brian Short. Guys welcome to Technomics.

Dan Casey: Thanks for having us.

Robyn Itule: The first and most important question we need to ask to get this episode started is: what are your favorite meals at Olive Garden?

Dan Casey: I'm going to go ahead and say I love the potato and gnocchi soup. That's probably one of my favorites.

Brian Short: See I don't know if they still have it but they used to have a lunch deal, I think it was on the weekends. This is back in my college days. Where you could get all you could eat salad, breadsticks, and soup. It was like a pasta frijole soup. I think that's still my favorite.

Jeremy Nelson: And they still have that.

Brian Short: Do they?

Jeremy Nelson: They do.

Brian Short: You know I probably haven't had it in like, jeez almost 20 years. But, maybe this weekend.

Robyn Itule: [Chuckles]

Jeremy Nelson: Making plans.

Robyn Itule: And now everybody is thinking about like, "Yeah soup, salad, and breadsticks is sounding pretty good right about now." Alright so, but the point of our show is really not about American-Italian cuisine. It is really about making brand experiences live though technology on a lot of different platforms. So this is all about UI and UX. And we've talked about what our favorite Olive Garden meals are but what are your favorite technology on-brand experiences out there today?

Dan Casey: That's a really good question. I think that Apple is probably the first that comes to mind. You know Brian and I were talking about this earlier. They have, you essentially have one account through Apple and they are able to accommodate you via that account everywhere. Whether it's in store setting up a Genius Bar appointment or configuring your iTunes store. Any sort of purchases relevant to Apple. It's a very seamless type of experience all the way down to checking out in store through their mobile POS. That's probably the first thing that comes to mind for me.

Brian Short: Yeah, I think there's a couple companies that are trying symmetrizing things. I think for most companies it’s still very much a work in progress. I really like what I've been seeing at Target. So they have a lot of per store information if you go into their dedicated app at least in the iPhone. They can tell you the aisle and the part of the aisle that a certain product is in. They can typically tell you if something's in stock or not. That's always nice. I think it’s the kind of space where there's a lot of companies trying a lot of different things. I don't know that there's a real clear winner. I do know that a lot of people are looking to Apple though as that leader.

Jeremy Nelson: Yeah I think that's a great example. When you talk about that single account that goes across multiple different interactions. And especially with the introduction of biometrics into that and the way that that adds security and convenience. And the way you tie that into Apple Pay. I think that's a fantastic example.

Dan Casey: And I think one thing to note too is you have, like Brian was saying, a lot of companies that are really trying to get their foot in the door. One of the problems that we've seen though is companies are trying to mimic what other companies are doing and it doesn't necessarily work for their model. You have a lot of conversations now around Amazon. "How can we be more like Amazon? How can we adapt our online presence to be more like responsive like Amazon?" But it might be a small to medium sized business that is really not going to be able to accommodate the magnitude that an Amazon would be able to take on. So I think its something to note.

Robyn Itule: So that's a really interesting commentary though on Amazon because I think that on the one hand you have businesses saying hey, how can we be more like Amazon? Meanwhile, customer interactions and engagement and habits are clearly indicating that, "Yeah that's a model that is supportive of the way consumers crave customer experiences." So, is there something in that model that is maybe over-saturated that doesn't work? And how do you coach a client though getting to the things that do and steering them clear of what won't?

Brian Short: I was having this conversation earlier today really, just about how do clients understand what they should be working on? Or what we can be helping them with. And I think one really big part of that is, I think its important for companies to understand what their own goals are. I think those goals are really particular to each organization. I think it’s easy for people to go and have a really good retailer experience. Especially something that's related to an overall omnichannel experience. And I think it’s easy for them to look at that and say, "Well, I want the same thing for my business." And I think it's often easy to confuse the goal with the implementation. And I think it’s that implementation that's really going to be unique for each client. If you look at what Starbucks is doing for instance. I think Starbucks is taking a really aggressive approach to the retail experience and to what that means for devices as well. When you use the Starbucks app, there's a lot of different things that you can do right from the app in relation to the store that you're in at the time. Whether that's ordering, whether that's paying, whether that's understanding what the song is at the time. There's a lot of different components to it. But if you look at what those results really are, I think they're very different than what you would expect in a brick and mortar store that's selling electronics or something like that instead.

Dan Casey: Well there's a typical mobile maturity model concept that I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with. But really, to tie into what Brian was saying about the goals aspect, it's really creating a brand experience maturity model that really helps us to align those business goals and identify some of the gaps that exist between sort of how the business envisions the problem space versus its customers. So that's one of our first steps that we'll take with a client to make sure that there's that alignment up front before we start to do any conceptualizing or hitting pen to paper on actually designing a solution.

Robyn Itule: And I really love that brand perspective, near and dear to my heart, because that is part of my role here at Insight. There are things that come right off the table, if you're looking at somebody's brand and somebody's business goals you can say, “Listen, I understand that's a goal for you, but you can't get there via this route because it disagrees with who you are.” And I think especially with technology, that's a place where it gets to be a pretty slippery slope for people because it’s to the effect of one of the comments earlier. Which is how do we just be more like Amazon. We'll you're not Amazon and if you're looking at your own brand, you can see the clear differentiations for the goals that are aligned to being like Amazon versus actually being like Amazon. So I mean, know thyself being step number one, makes such dramatic sense.

Jeremy Nelson: Yeah and I think another key there is making sure those goals are aligned with what your customer goals are. I love the Starbucks example. Going back a few weeks, they rolled out a fairly significant update to that mobile app and I happened to go into a Starbucks that morning and there was a line of people in front of me. And literally out of the six people in front of me four people got up to the cash register and complained about the new user experience with the actual Starbucks app. So obviously, it looks great, I like it. I think there is a lot of really great functionality and the expansion of some of those features like you were talking about I think is there. But obviously there is definitely some misalignment with client expectations and goals.

Brian Short: Yeah, well I think for a lot of retailers, they understand what makes a premium experience in a physical brick and mortar store. But I think there is a lot less understanding about what makes a premium experience on the web or in the context of devices right? When you go moving somebody's interface and you go shifting things around from what they're expecting, that's really hard. And especially when you have an app that has as wide a reach as something like the Starbucks app does, that's getting many, many more downloads than probably a lot of retailers' apps.

Robyn Itule: Well and consider too, making those updates is part of the form and function and necessity right? I mean we wouldn't want Starbucks operating on an insecure platform that required patches or something to that effect. However, that customer experience is naturally impacted. Last year, Forester [assumed] conducted the customer experience index and it estimated that 84% of brands got scores of, "Okay or worse," from customers. So clearly even in trying to assess and make evolutionary updates to those experiences. A vast majority are not achieving it. We have a little more Technomics coming right up.

Jeremy Nelson: Stick around.


Robyn Itule: You know when you're like Jeremy and I, and you work in technology, often times you see a news headline and you just start thinking, "Hmm, I wonder how many data centers are required to power that initiative."

Jeremy Nelson: All the time, it’s so funny. You see traditional headlines come through and my brain goes into what's underneath that from an IT perspective.

Robyn Itule: Well because, let's be honest, we live in a day and age where you don't have a lot of opportunity to really dive deep into some of the areas and some of the headlines that come across that are really, really important. And from a technology perspective, where technology is fueling so many of the things behind the breaking news, somebody's gotta start telling those stories.

Jeremy Nelson: Absolutely, as intriguing and important as the headlines are, for us in the technology space, the solutions that power those decisions is just as important.

Robyn Itule: So that's what we did. We produced a digital magazine called Technically because we found that technically, there's so much more to discuss when you're talking about things that really matter and impact our daily lives. So if you want to take a deeper dive on the headlines from a technology perspective, I really encourage you to subscribe to Technically. We push an issue once a quarter, and it’s always going to be relevant and well researched. You too can subscribe today at www.technicallymagazine.com.


Robyn Itule: So increasingly in the marketplace, we're looking at a probability that more than 40% of sales organizations are going to be relying on mobile and digital technology for their sales force to achieve, let's just call it anything. And that's in 2020 is the timeline for that. So just looking at my calendar, we're in 2016 and that is a very short timeline for.

Jeremy Nelson: Half way through 2016 I'll have you know.

Robyn Itule: Thank you for pointing out how terrifying that just got for a lot of people. For 84% of those brands who are really trying to make this work, that is the tipping point right there. How do you get there when you've got so much evolution on the customer side.

Jeremy Nelson: I think what's interesting is one of the points that's been brought up already. Is it a digital experience, is it a physical experience? What I think, with some of the properties and things that we've talked about already, is that its definitely turning into more of a hybrid experience right? Where you augment some of those physical experiences with the digital experiences.

Robyn Itule: Have we overdone it on our omnichannel? And I realize its actually still somewhat of a fairly new concept right? Or at least philosophically, has it become so integrated that the brand gets lost?

Brian Short: Well I think what happens is, I think for some organizations, an omnichannel approach is taken without really any care as to what it means in the context of their own stores or their own customers right? And I think that's where, if all you're doing when it comes to omnichannel is giving a dedicated app on a device like an Android phone or something like that. And then simply pushing coupons to customers. Then you're not really giving them a reason to interact with you in the first place. I think for a lot of retailers, I think the big thing they need to understand is really what their goals are. And like I said, if it’s really just, "We're just going to push coupons out," maybe that totally works. But I wouldn't be surprised when you don't see a lot of acceptance or downloads by your customers at that point.

Jeremy Nelson: I think you used a key word there, interaction. Because if you're just pushing down coupons, is that an interaction?

Robyn Itule: But I would say on that point is the interaction a creativity challenge or a technology challenge?

Brian Short: I think that's a creativity challenge quite honestly. We see it with some of the organizations that we work with, that there's often a technology first focus. Where it’s a focus on the fact that we've made these investments on the technology side. Whether its point of sale systems or whether it’s the consumer facing website or the dedicated app or what have you. There's a lot of focus on that sum cost. And then there's an urge to simply see what they can do based on what they have. I think for a lot of organizations, they would be much better off actually starting from a blank slate and saying, "What are our goals first." Starting with those goals, understanding really what those are, understanding what that means for the customer, and then looking for creative technology solutions. And it doesn't mean that they have to go in and scrap massive investments that they've already made. But it's not focusing on those investments to the exclusion of what their real business goals are.

Jeremy Nelson: That reminds me why I'm a big fan of the show Shark Tank. And one of the big things is that what you have is a product. It's not a business. And that's immediately what came to my mind as you were kind of going through that.

Robyn Itule: Yeah I think there's also something in the fact that businesses probably have more than they realize. Especially when they're in the process of articulating those goals right. Because you already have a lot of inputs which means you have a lot of data that you can make correlative decisions about as a place to start or not, right? To what extent does being thoughtful and wise about using that big data to help design some of the technology, to help influence the business outcomes and the customer experience. Does that provide a competitive advantage and how are people doing it?

Dan Casey: Yeah, absolutely. So there's an influx in the engagement type around IOT, Internet of Things. Specifically around that point. Where companies now have this massive amount of data that they're trying to sift though. Sometimes they even have a vision of how they want to utilize that data. But it’s my job and Brian's job to help them get to a point where that data is insightful. Not only just from reading through and understanding it, but being able to bring it to life and visualize it in a UI that can be very effective for multiple levels of users. So if you're thinking at the executive level, executives tend to want to have a higher level overview of things. Well we can slice and dice that data to give them insights at that higher level. A lot of times what happens is you get a totally different experience then what you had originally set out to have.

Brian Short: I think one area that I don't see a lot of retailers necessarily doing yet, which I think will probably be a bigger thing going forward, is also providing data to customers. There's a lot of focus right now within the omnichannel on giving the brand experience, and that's great. And giving sort of information to the folks that run the store or are making those decisions, kind of at that administration level. I think there's a real opportunity as well to provide data back to users. Because one of the classic problems that you run into if you're in a brick and mortar retail store, maybe it's just me. But I'm looking at a product and then I want the review. Or I want to know, what are the popular products in the store? I'm just going to end up guessing. And very often a lot of the sales associates, I think it depends on which store you're going into, but there's a lot of sales associates that don't necessarily have a very good understanding of what the difference between all these different products really is.

Dan Casey: And you might even pull out your phone and open the Google app and look for reviews that way. Whereas if there was sort of an app that could capture very quickly for users what the reviews for their products at any given point in the store were, that would be obviously, extremely useful.

Brian Short: That would be great. Well and I think that's part of the omnichannel that just isn't really recognized or isn't really taken advantage of right? It’s the relating the physical thing that I'm looking at to the information that exists either at the store level or within the cloud or in other sites or what have you.

Robyn Itule: Pretty much every single industry, with the exception of banking and insurance, everybody has tanked in terms of customer experience ratings. Does that surprise you?

Dan Casey: No, no it doesn't. And I think that it kind of comes back to being very aware of your customers’ expectations. That truly does vary. If I'm walking into Brooks Brothers versus running into Walgreens versus going to some restaurant, my expectations pivot.

Robyn Itule: Olive Garden?

Dan Casey: Olive Garden, yes, yes.

Brian Short: When I'm walking into Olive Garden.

Dan Casey: Yes.

Robyn Itule: All roads lead back to Olive Garden.

Jeremy Nelson: Or at least their breadsticks.

Dan Casey: At least their breadsticks. And I can bring their breadsticks into Brooks Broothers and Walgreens with me. So maybe I'll stop there first. But yeah so I mean, my expectations pivot through every interaction I have with different brands. To have a business executive or a business sponsor be aware of those shifting expectations and not try to be something that they're not, is probably one of the biggest contributors to why we're seeing these companies really tank in the field of UX. Like I said, Brian and I were talking earlier about this sort of brand awareness, brand experience maturity model. That's not something that we're seeing companies do enough of.

Robyn Itule: Why aren't people where technology will allow them to be with that slice of customer experience?

Brian Short: I think part of it is that they're not necessarily aware of what's possible. I think there's a real lack of understanding about the broad range of services that exist out there either as SAS services or as cloud-based analytical services, or various types of tools that that one can use to understand your customers more, build a better relationship with them, understand what works, understand what doesn't. Things like that. I think there's also a real lack of understanding on what both the opportunity cost is, because quite frankly, technology is disrupting all kinds of industries. And its disrupting all kinds of industries that for years people kept saying, "Well, this is immune to change. There's no way this is changing." I think the taxi industry or public transportation is a big one of these. Now we have Uber and Uber is totally upending hired cabs in most major metropolitan areas. I think down the road very quickly, we're going to see things like self-driving cars, faster than anybody had any idea. And there's a million and a half jobs in the US alone that depend entirely on where that person is driving. Whether they're commercial drivers or taxi cabs or what have you. I think there's just a lot of industries that are ripe for disruption here. So if somebody's not thinking about how they can have a better relationship with their customer and bring technology tools to bear around that, it's very possible that one of their competitors is doing that. I think the other thing is though that, I think for a lot of technology projects, it’s unclear really what the return is or what the profile really looks like. And I think that's a real shame. One of the things I would love to see all projects do is really have an accountability component so that business sponsors and purchasers of technology and services, so that they can understand a year or two down the road, was this project successful or was it not? Those are two big components in my mind at least.

Dan Casey: What I'll add just to the, not fully asking the question, "What do my customers need from us." It has become sort of a riding the wave, what other companies are doing, how can we keep up with what they're doing with this technology. But specifically, as an example, we were talking earlier, Brian, about the HoloLens technology. The technology exists right now, like today, to be able to place objects in a realistic environment scenario. We were talking about how any sort of furniture retail company could benefit from something like that. I mean what do people need to do when they're shopping for furniture? They need to envision what it’s going to look like in their home with their room dimensions and their ceiling heights and wall colors and all that stuff. I don't think people are challenging themselves enough to think outside the box. That's one of the vibes that I got down at NRF too is, it was almost like we needed to open some eyes. And I think what better way, you guys are probably going to laugh but and not that I was around for this but, in the 50s and 60s, you had all these crazy things coming out. Like spray on deodorant and those work out tools where you're spreading the bands between two handles. These people that were being very inventive about how to get things done. And I feel like we've lost that a little bit. Partially because there is this increasing gap between what companies can provide and again what users are expecting and what they actually need. So that's just sort of my take on why I think you're seeing this slower adoption and slower thought process from companies compared to the technology that's out there.

Brian Short: I think for a lot of companies there is a real resistance to be first in something. I think they don't necessarily want to be the ones out at the edge spending their money and potentially failing. I think if you're looking specifically at retail, I think there's a lot of things about that space that lends itself naturally to avoidance of risk, which is understandable. But it’s a highly dynamic space these days. There's just a lot of people trying some really interesting things.

Robyn Itule:So all the points that you guys are making around that innovation and that investment and risk-taking I think is a really, really good one. And there are some studies that have been done within the past year that are proving out some of that are ROI. Watermark Consulting pushed out some research that indicated that customer experience leaders are outperforming the market by generating a total return 35 points higher than the S&P 500 Index. So that's investment that's really coming back to those organizations. Conversely, that customer experience laggers are posting a return 45 points lower than the broader markets. So there is a real big delta between the companies that are pursuing that innovation and those that are really maintaining the status quo.

Jeremy Nelson: Well even just those numbers if you look at the swing, that's an 80 point swing between leading and lagging. That's significant when you're talking about S&P 500 level dollars.

Robyn Itule: Well and all of this really gets at a larger issue that is happening in the cultures of many organizations today. And that is the partnership between technology and the different lines of business.

Dan Casey: Absolutely and I think it all comes back to if you are in one of those situations where you might have a limited budget or restrictions on requirements. At least thinking about putting a future roadmap together. And having that be sort of what drives your model for the years to come. And be willing and open to change as your customers grow and evolve and their expectations pivot. I think that's very important to do and I think, Robyn, that ties back to your comment around the harmony between design and technology or experience and technology.

Robyn Itule: Well you guys, this has been such a fun conversation and I'm sure there will be more of it in the future. In fact, I've had so much fun, why don't we get together for dinner the next time you're in town. We'll go to Olive Garden, unlimited breadsticks and salad right? We'll get some baked ziti, the potato gnocchi soup and the pasta frijole. Everybody will have a great time, probably Carlo Rossi wine.


Jeremy Nelson: Oh man, that's right.

Robyn Itule: There we go. Okay, we really tied that one up with a bow and I'm just going to leave everybody with a little Andes mint of a dessert and that is, thank you so much for being here. We can't wait to talk to you again soon. Thanks for listening to Technomics. If you want to find more episodes, you can download the podcasts from iTunes, Google, or your favorite podcast provider. And for more stories on intelligent technology, visit www.insight.com.