business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

If there’s one theme that dominates here on, it is the changes that affect our business and personal lives, and what appears to be the constantly quickening pace of change.

Consider the world of customer satisfaction. Specifically, let’s examine the speed with which one customer’s experience can change a business forever. For this case, let’s use what is widely considered one of the most famous movie scenes ever shot.

The odds are that when I mention the movie When Harry Met Sally, you will have one of two responses. Some people have never seen the movie, but most will remember the famous restaurant scene, start giggling and immediately tell those who haven’t seen the movie to go rent it, stream it, or buy the DVD. While the movie is fun, that one scene is worth more than the price of admission.

And here’s where the pace of change sets in. When Kevin and I came out with our book The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies less than two years ago, When Harry Met Sally was a movie we knew we had to include. Yet when we look at it now, we realize that chapter needs a complete rewrite.

If you haven’t seen the movie (or just need a chuckle on a Tuesday morning), THE scene takes place in a New York City restaurant. Good friends Harry and Sally (Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) are discussing life as they always do. Harry, a recent divorcee, is bragging about his successful return to the dating scene and all that comes with it. Sally tells Harry that men (like many marketers) really don’t really know if a date (or the customer) is satisfied. In a moment that any marketer can understand, she says sometimes people seem satisfied and say they are satisfied, but really aren’t.

(Okay, they are talking about sex, but it’s a Tuesday morning so cut me some slack here.)

Harry brushes off Sally’s suggestion, so she takes action. Sitting in the booth of a crowded New York City delicatessen, she slowly and loudly begins to demonstrate what we can politely call extreme customer satisfaction. Harry is mortified, the other patrons are transfixed and moviegoers roar with laughter. But the scene’s pay-off is yet to come.

Once Sally’s demonstration is complete she smiles and casually returns to eating lunch. At that moment the camera takes us to another table where the waitress asks an older woman for her order. The woman (played by director Rob Reiner’s mother, Estelle Reiner) gestures to Sally and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

It’s the ultimate moment in word of mouth marketing. New customers want to share the experience of another customer who appears outrageously happy with her own experience. It builds sales, buzz and success.

Now, When Harry Met Sally was released in 1989. Our book came out early in 2010. But if you were to shoot that scene today, the payoff would have to be very different. And in fact, the difference is one that we did not even consider when we wrote the book.

Let’s consider the scene in 2011 terms.

If this type of moment played out today, people in the restaurant would have a very different reaction. Sure they would be transfixed by Sally’s scene, but just as certainly a good number would pull out their smart phones and start recording. Within seconds of Sally’s happy ending, the video would be up on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. We all know what happens next.

The video would be shared again and again. The scene in the restaurant would be played thousands if not millions of times from New York to New Delhi, New Zealand and more. Suddenly that restaurant in New York City would have lines stretching around the block filled with people from around the world who are ready to walk in and select their order by saying, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

That’s the good news, but it doesn’t always play out that way. It’s just as likely that a negative scene will also get that kind of publicity because that’s the world we live in. Word of mouth always matters, but now it is shared at light speed with the planet.

And that is something that not only didn’t happen back in 1989, but wasn’t even as prevalent in 2009-2010 as it is today.

The reason Kevin and I wrote the book was our feeling that stories and characters from the movies help educate, inspire and explain business realities in a way that anyone can understand. In this case, When Harry Met Sally also offers a textbook case of how these realities keep changing, and why me must constantly be on our game in order to take advantage of them.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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