Businesses should always think about and create great customer experience

By JJ Rosen October 25, 2021
graphic: Knight in armour with emoticons

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

Armor…check. Goblet…check. Helmet…check.

The castle was massive. With no drawbridge in sight, we weren’t quite sure how we would get in. Glancing up at the giant towers, we paused, trying to decide what we should do next. The walls were too thick to breach on our own, and we knew it was only a matter of time before one of the guards would see us.

The youngest knight in our group spoke up, “I think we have to enter the castle at that door between Cinnabon and The Gap.”

I answered, “You mean the double doors across from the Crate & Barrel?”

Decked out in our medieval attire, we made our way to the castle entrance – in the middle of the mall. The security guard just smiled as we walked by. After paying $60 a piece we were finally in.

Welcome to Medieval Times.

As a special treat for Fall Break, we decided to take our Dungeons-and-Dragons-loving kid on a trek to Lawrenceville, Ga., to check out this weird but interesting dining experience featured in the classic film, “The Cable Guy” years ago.

Medieval Times is a restaurant entertainment experience that takes you back to a time when kings, queens, and chivalry ruled. As guests enjoy a feast of turkey legs and corn (with no utensils,) they are treated to a show complete with sword fights and jousts as the best knights in the land (and the mall) compete to win the Queen’s Tournament.

But it wasn’t just the actors that provided the entertainment. With most of the guests decked out in medieval attire, the audience itself was part of the show. Every section of the arena was assigned a knight to cheer for, and just like a major sporting event, the crowd was all in.

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We couldn’t help ourselves. As we sipped Coke from our goblets, we found ourselves rooting for “our” knight and booing the others. We were more than just customers at a restaurant, we were invested in our own experience.

In my job as a tech consultant, like many companies, much of the work we do is project-based. As most everyone in the work world knows, managing complex projects is no easy feat. Deadlines, dependencies, budgets, group dynamics—managing all these factors is challenging to say the least.

Years ago, we discovered a less obvious but just as critical factor that ultimately could make or break a project’s outcome: engaging the customer.

Just like Medieval Times engages their customers by making them part of the show, we learned that the more our clients were invested in a project, the smoother the project would go. And in the end, the happier our client would be.

So, for us non-knights who spend our days battling in the business world, what does “engaging the customer” mean?

It basically comes down to erasing the perceived line between customer and vendor to form a unified team. When every member of a team (no matter whether their paycheck comes from the customer or the vendor) comes together as one with a singular focus on making a project a success, everyone wins.

Though many customers are engaged naturally, proactively facilitating this dynamic ultimately falls on our shoulders. Here’s a few things we have found that help:

  • Formally define the customer’s roles and responsibilities. In tech projects, we often assign customers the “tester role” to check our work for final signoff.
  • Include customers in internal project planning meetings. When our project teams meet, we invite the customer to participate.
  • Work at the customer’s offices. This was easier pre-pandemic, but for complex projects we have found moving into a client’s office where we can work side-by-side unifies us.
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There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to engaging the customer. Medieval Times’ approach is different than ours, and ours is different than others. The key is simply having the mindset that for complex projects, “We are all in this together.”

As the show ended and we walked out to our car, we removed our paper crowns, and reflected together that, as Billy Crystal said in “The Princess Bride,” we all really “had fun storming the castle!”

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville software development and IT consulting firm.  

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