The Purple Goldfish of Service Industries

All I knew is that the service industry had my heart and that I was meant to serve others through remarkable food, drink, and service.

This thought constantly went through my mind after I made the decision to walk away from my job at a Google subsidiary in DC to fry chicken for free at a fast casual restaurant startup in remote South Carolina.

For three and a half months, I provided pro bono consulting to the developing chain and worked in operations to learn the ropes of multi-unit expansion and leadership (as hourly restaurant jobs had helped me pay for college). 

It was impossibly hard at times, but I came to realize that I needed to devote my life to the creation of PurposeFull organizations, inspiring engaged employees, and creating remarkable customer experiences.

Flash forward a few years and I had become a full-fledged restaurant operator. One day, a manager at another one of our restaurants told me that he had met Stan Phelps. The manager raved about Stan’s business insights and offered to let me borrow his copy of What’s Your Purple Goldfish that Stan had given him. I picked the book up and felt compelled to shoot Stan an email.

Shortly thereafter I started researching Stan’s work and found that he had just published an article about our restaurant and, lo and behold, the “lagniappe of the day” was one of my video newsletters that I created for our customers. (I’m still waiting for Stan’s apology for unauthorized use of my “amazing” creative work but that’s a topic for another day).   

Stan and I met about a month later and figured out quickly that we both believed that the best way to differentiate in a “sea of sameness” was through touching the hearts and minds of the people that you serve.

I believe that people that are congruent in their beliefs and actions inevitably attract one another. That’s why the two of us connecting came so naturally, and it quickly led us to foster a successful personal and professional relationship.

The reason why we rewrote the original Purple Goldfish book and created the “service” edition is because we both have a passion and deep commitment to these industries. We see a lot of service industry pros needlessly suffer when we believe that the answer to their diminishing returns is quite simple. Let me explain the background for the problem that I’m alluding to and what I believe the simple solution entails.  

Consider the theory proposed by the legendary economist, Milton Friedman, which states that the sole purpose of business is to provide a return to shareholders. Of course, a profit-centered focus is where instruments such as KPIs and quarterly dividend returns come from.

It makes sense and most of us accept this principle at face value. The problem with this philosophy is that there’s never enough of a return and executives get caught in a perpetual quarterly return cycle. For better or worse, ROI and profits are what validate the efficacy of leadership in most businesses.

…So how does a business typically make more money?

You’ve seen this firsthand time and again: quarterly top-line sales and bottom-line efficiencies have to be created constantly. It never ends.

When it comes to sales, most companies choose the quick and easy route by discounting their brand and they give just to get. This is short-term, often comes across as contrived, and creates a slippery slope of discounting. Once consumers expect to pay a discounted rate; they never respect your brand in the same way.

To establish bottom-line core competencies, entities typically hack at the product, labor, and physical plant. These decisions diminish quality, employee care, and damage morale.

Ultimately, sales cure all and there needs to be system to drive people in the door, ensure that they’re coming back, and that your customers are feel compelled to tell others about how great you are.

In order to drive traffic, the first inclination of companies is to start dedicating their budget to advertising in order to reach the masses. However, consumer attention has never been more fragmented and the value of traditional advertising has decreased significantly.

I say “value” because advertisers provide a valuable service but it’s too expensive, does not readily correlate to top-line, and “impressions” aren’t conversions. (Side note- Traditional ad companies, please feel free to keep charging outlandish prices and save up as much as you can because no one will be buying from you in 2025 if you continue down this path and refuse to evolve).

Consumers now have millions of ways to spend their time and companies are bold enough to think that their message is so special that people will drop whatever they’re doing to pay attention? Do they believe that their customers put their businesses on some sort of pedestal and all clamor over the opportunity to share the newest promotion with their friends?

It’s a staggering thought…but perhaps we have to show the people that we currently, and will potentially, serve that we care about them first if we’re ever to receive anything in return.

What Stan and I are proposing in the newest edition of Purple Goldfish is not easy. I would equate the principles to brushing your teeth. If you brush your teeth quickly and haphazardly every so often then you’ll get the job partially done. Perhaps there are even some “quick fix” solutions that you can utilize such as mouthwash, white strips, and an annual cleaning. In short, everything looks great on the outside, but the foundation is crumbling.

It’s those that are willing to brush thoroughly, floss, and show dedication in their daily upkeep that will still have a beautiful set of teeth when they’re 80 years old while your competition is soaking their dentures in cleansers (if they haven’t already died of tooth decay).   

We are asking you to consider the long-term. The only possible thing that we can do to stand apart is to intentionally touch the hearts and minds of the people that we serve on a daily basis. 

Frankly, it’s difficult to quantify the impact of genuinely serving others and creating a remarkable experience. However, what we’re advocating is the willingness to try and adapt to today’s business landscape and allocate the resources necessary. Be willing and able to fail, test, and continually improve.

Your people are counting on you.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Check out the Slideshare presentation for some of the top hospitality Purple Goldfish examples or the entire Purple Goldfish Service Edition book.