Week 5: Differentiation and The Pursuit of Wow!

Tom Peters makes a great case that there is no excuse, no matter what kind of business you’re in, for thinking that what you offer can’t stand out from your competition. This week is all about suggestions for ways a business can reframe the way it thinks about differentiation and many practical ideas that can be implemented to make a business one of a kind. Customers are loyal when they connect with your business, and those connection points are the things you do that surprise, delight, and inspire them.

Customer Service Matters – Reinforcing a culture of excellent customer service pays high dividends to a business. There are several ways this can prove to be a differentiator. First, many companies tolerate mediocrity (and sometimes even unintentionally encourage it). Exceptional customer service is a strategy that almost any company can employ, yet it continues to be an underutilized strategy. Understanding your customers’ wants, needs, and expectations and then exceeding them in as many ways as possible can establish unbreakable customer loyalty.

Your People Matter – Who you hire mediocre people, don’t be surprised when you get mediocre performance. If you hire creative people, they will likely come up with new ways of doing business and see opportunities that others have missed. Reliability is important, but reliability does not have to equal boring. People can be visionary and reliable. Seek out the best people in the business, treat them exceptionally well, and reward them when their performance is outstanding. They will delight customers and drive profit over and over again.

Design Matters – Peters shares a list of 142 different examples of great design. Some of my favorites are:

  • the precisely correct placement of an airbill on a package being shipped to a finicky customer
  • the formal position of chief designer on a corporate organization chart (and the importance that role plays in every decision about a product or service)
  • a 20-year-old sweatshirt that you love
  • the smell of a new baseball
  • the garnish that makes a plate of meat and potatoes an elegant dish
  • stuff you can’t explain but know is there
  • the fact that you sometimes buy books for the cover and wines for the label
  • something that old folks appreciate…and wee kids…and the handicapped
  • a truck stop where you feel at home

Really Listening Matters – Beyond customer service, listening to your clients creates an ongoing dialogue that can yield amazing results. If you hear and address little problems, you can avoid them becoming big problems. Customers often have great ideas…often beyond what you could have imagined yourself. Hearing those outrageous ideas might produce your next breakthrough product. Peters also suggests interviewing 5-15 irritated customers and sharing it with your colleagues and management. It will likely produce a big discussion and inspire some memorable changes for the good.

Everyone Matters – Everyone in the organization should be able to produce a wow list that captures the things they are doing or projects they are working on that produce memorable results. HR might be doing things to improve the lives of employees so they can deliver better service or products for customers. Accounting might be working on ways to make customer payments easier for them. Everyone in the business has a role to play in making it stand out among a crowded field of competitors.



Interview with Jolie Rollins of CockADoodleMoo Food Truck


CockADoodleMoo is a food truck and catering business operated by Jolie and Doug Rollins. They opened their business in 2014 with the decision to “live fearlessly” and follow their dream. Doug has more than 20 years of experience as head chef at country clubs and Jolie has more than 20 years of business experience in the health care industry. Together, they are a dynamic duo that produce some of the best food you’ve ever tasted served with flair and extraordinary customer service.

I visited their truck this week after corresponding with Jolie by email for a couple of weeks. She was extremely generous with her time answering my questions about her business. After my visit, it is clear to me that this is a business that will be successful long after the food truck movement fades away. The food is all fresh and local whenever possible, so the menu adapts based on what is in season and available. The meat all comes from local farmers. It was absolutely delicious!

The great food is only part of the equation that assures the success of this business. Jolie has a larger than life personality, remembers her regulars and their orders and makes their interaction with CockADoodleMoo memorable. Her people skills also pay dividends beyond her customer interactions, as she has developed a large network of businesses that host her truck for lunch and dinner service. She and Doug also have a great network of local farmers that they work with to ensure the quality of their local raw materials is the very best.

I asked Jolie several questions about her decision to open CockADoodleMoo and how it runs. Those questions and answers are below.


Why a food truck (as opposed to a stand alone restaurant or some other format)?

Work/Life balance.  When we go out of town, the truck is parked – no worries about leaving someone in charge!  No worries at all!


What are the most challenging aspects of owning your own business?

Not enough hours in the day. [It was clear from our conversation that the 5-6 hours they were open every day was preceded by hours of food preparation, shopping from local farmers, as well as calls and emails to make sure their schedule stays fully booked.]


What do you enjoy the most (and least) about your work?

Most – customers. Helping them decide, telling them stories, listening to stories and watching them enjoy my husband’s creations.

Least – paying taxes.


Was there any specific impetus that inspired you to follow your dream in 2014 to open CockADoodleMoo?

I’d been in healthcare for 18 years and needed a change.  My husband had been a country club chef for 18 years, he needed a change. Why then? A tug that told us if we didn’t at least try, then we would regret it forever.


What do you know now that you wish you knew back when you were getting started?  

I wish I was a mechanic!


How long did it take before your business was profitable? What strategies did you employ?

We were profitable after 16 months. Knowing when to say no to an ‘opportunity’ is critical to the success of our business.  My dad told me “you will take a lot of business where you think you are making money and you won’t.  Don’t take business knowing you will lose money”.  That stuck with me when someone wanted us to go outside our brand or sell at a lower cost to meet their goals.  It wasn’t easy, but I have learned to say NO!


Are there things about a food truck business that are unique and different from other types of businesses?

Our local Food Truck Family is very tight – we call it Co-oper-ti-tion (combine cooperation and competition).  We are all individual businesses with our own brands but collaborate and share information.


How do you market and promote your business? 

Shop Local Raleigh and RDUMFA are two organizations that we’ve used to market our business.  We also rely heavily on social media and word of mouth. [I saw this in action when I visited, as people came up to the truck they mentioned they follow CockADoodleMoo on Facebook and saw they were going to be here.]


What advice would you give to someone (like me) who aspires to start a food truck business?

If you love people and hard work then what are you waiting for???!!!


Here are a few photos I took when I visited CockADoodleMoo.