Hey Chipotle, I Really Don’t Care You Invented the Modern Burrito!

by Marcus Sheridan

This post is a little bit of a change-up from the norm of what’s found here on The Sales Lion, but I promise you that if you are at all interested in marketing, customer service, and running a business; its teachings are applicable to you. So just stick with me for a second and I promise to eventually get to the point…..But first, what do you say we talk BURRITOS??!!

I’m what Malcolm Gladwell would call a ‘Burrito Maven’. And what exactly is a Burrito Maven you ask? A Burrito Maven is someone like me who knows every made-to-order burrito shop within 150 miles or so of his house. A Burrito Maven is someone who could eat burritos every day, twice a day, and still consider another for a midnight snack.

And since the burrito boom of the early 2000s, I’ve been to every burrito shop imaginable, well at least in the Virginia area of the United States. Yep, you  name it and I’ve been there.

  • Chipotle……Check
  • Moe’s Grille………Check
  • Baja Fresh…………Check
  • Salsarita’s………..Check
  • California Tortilla……….Check
  • Qdoba……..Check

When I say I’ve been to all these places, I’m not referring to one-time shopping. In fact, I’m sure I’ve been to Moe’s and Chipotle at least 50 times each over the last year or so, which brings me to the point of this little post.

When it comes to burrito places to eat, I truly am a maven in every sense of the word. And because each of the restaurants do certain things well and fall short in other areas, I’ve many times concocted in my silly brain the perfect burrito shop, complete with the best attributes of all these modern burrito chains.

Because I see the world from a business owner’s and marketer’s perspective, I decided a while back to send Chipotle an email and let them know my thoughts regarding their operation/menu. The following is a succinct summary of the feedback I gave their customer service department in an email.

Pros:

  • Chipotle, bar-none, has the best flavor and food quality of any of the burrito shops. Their chicken is amazing, lettuce is always crisp, corn salsa is the bomb, and cheeses are the freshest.

Cons:

  • What’s the deal with no Salsa Bar?? Although they make good salsa, they don’t offer an open salsa bar. In fact, the only condiment on the floor is Tabasco Sauce. Compared to Moe’s Grille, who has the greatest salsa bar in the world, (well maybe not the world, but their tomatillo is off the charts) Chipotle isn’t even close.
  • Why not desserts?? Despite the fact that I stay away from the sweets, the occasional post-burrito oatmeal raisin cookie does have its shining moments. How hard would it be to add cookies to the menu??
  • Two bucks for chips?? Without a salsa bar?? Are ya kidding me? Just do like everyone else and charge me a little more so you can throw in the chips.

Nothing Like Maven Feedback

Now I know some of you may be wondering why I took the time to write Chipotle and tell them what I liked and didn’t like about their menu. But that’s just what mavens do and as a business owner I always appreciate it when customers take the time to give me feedback and offer suggestions. Considering my business is imperfect, constant customer feedback is my greatest gauge on current weaknesses as well as possible improvements.

But Chipotle’s response to my concerns is what spawned this article. In a nutshell, this is what the customer rep said in his reply:

  • Thanks for writing this letter
  • We don’t offer a salsa bar because of health codes.
  • We don’t offer cookies because we’ve never thought about it.
  • We don’t give free chips away because we want to offer quality chips.

Frankly, I was perplexed by this guy’s answers. I mean, why does just about EVERY burrito shop except Chipotle offer a salsa bar? Does every other restaurant fall under a different health code? This made no sense to me.

‘We’ve never thought about cookies’…..What?? Are you telling me a multi, multi-million dollar restaurant chain hasn’t thought about adding a product that almost all their competitors sell and is obviously a great way to increase the company’s sale amount-per-customer ratios??

‘Want to offer quality chips’….I don’t know about you, but I’m here to say that a homemade tortilla chip is a homemade tortilla chip. I mean, isn’t a chip nothing but a salsa carrying vessel anyway?? The idea that their chips were that superior to me was crazy, but I guess they just feel like they can make more money that way, which in reality I have no problem with, I’d just rather the guy tell me that was the real reason.

Say What???

Truth be told, the customer service guy didn’t raise my eyebrows too much with these statements. Essentially, he was giving me politician-like responses and although I’d handle things differently, it is what it is.

Where I was most alarmed with the gentleman’s response though were with the closing words to letter. Basically, this is how he closed the email:

Keep in mind Mr. Sheridan, we did start the modern-day burrito shop.

In other words, this guy was telling me that because Chipotle spawned the burrito revolution that it meant I didn’t really know what I was talking about and their business model was obviously superior to their competitors.

As you can imagine, my thought was, ‘Who the heck does this guy think he is????’ Just because a business invents something doesn’t mean they receive any special rights or privileges.

Now granted, Chipotle did start the burrito era that has managed to bring me great joy over the past 10 years or so, but that doesn’t mean squat in terms of their future success. In fact, if you don’t believe me just talk to companies like JC Penny’s, K-Mart, Ford, etc, etc.

I can’t possibly imagine me telling a customer (I own a swimming pool company), “Ma’am, I appreciate the fact that you might think there is a better way to install your swimming pool based on new methods of other companies, but considering we’ve been doing this the longest that means we’re the best and you therefore don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Yeah, that would go over really well.

Big Business Pride Cycles

This is what I just don’t get about some businesses, small and large, that reach the top of their industry. They feel that because they’re the originators and innovators of their field, it gives them the natural right to disregard customer feedback and accept the idea that their competitors might be doing something better.

When it comes down to it, such actions are just a form of pride and will eventually not only stop the growth of a business, but also cause them to be surpassed by their smarter and more customer-centric competitors. So my point here is to never allow your pride to hinder your ability to truly listen to customer feedback as well as observe what your competitors might be doing better than you currently are.

Our Challenge

In this modern information age, a company’s ability to adjust on the fly and recognize consumer trends/wants is the absolute key to staying competitive in the market place. So always stay on the cutting-edge. Listen. Analyze. Be humble. Just by doing these small things your business will continue to grow and reach any heights you desire.

Questions? Comments? Want to talk burritos? ;-) As always, your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated below.

Mad Marketing Podcast

If you like the articles, you'll love Marcus' podcast and insightful tips on business and life.

Click to listen

Subscribe to Future Articles

Read Marcus' future articles and stay on the cutting edge of business, marketing, and life success tips!

Click to subscribe

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

mike michelini April 30, 2010 at

great stuff Marcus,
Maybe you should also show us the format of the email you left him? He seems almost a bit defensive in his response. You are right – he sounds so PC (politically correct) – is this guy a lawyer and not a customer service agent?

And its exactly these attitudes, being too proud, and too proud to CHANGE their ways, that allows a new entrant in the market to beat them. But hey, that gives new guys opportunity right? And it sparks the American innovator in all of us.

Maybe we can open our own competitive chain of burrito shops one day, I love those too! haha

have a good weekend
Mike
.-= mike michelini´s last blog ..Being Able To Be Dropped Anywhere & Surviving =-.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan May 1, 2010 at

Sweet, good call Mike, dang I’d love to start my own gig. It’s funny though just how powerful ‘pride’ can be, for good and for bad. Although I’m sure Chipotle will be just fine, it did very much surprise me they responded in such a manner…and BTW, I erased the email accidentally :-( , otherwise I would have absolutely posted it.

Reply

Ben May 4, 2010 at

Loved that one marc. I want in on a burrito shop. Been enjoying your blogs…
Haven’t started my own yet.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan May 4, 2010 at

Don’t delay your blog Ben!!! It’s like someone saying, “Here is a million dollars….”, and then you tell them you’re too busy to take it ;-) …..Anytime you need some help just let me know.

Reply

Monique J. May 9, 2010 at

Hi Marcus,

As part of Team Nault, with John Nault, we both found your article to be right on the mark as usual. As a former customer service manager, John and I are always appalled by sloppy service, disgruntled attitudes and the prevalent ‘I’m here to make a buck, not your day’ kind of attention that is heavily present in the service industry today. It’s not like the ‘good old days’ where personalised customer service personas were present and commonplace, whether your business was big or small, whether you were the mayor or a local. I think many companies are hard-pushed to blend a great company/product with equal parts great customer service and great marketing, which is something it is so refreshing to see you doing, not only in your own business but on your blog, which is a help and inspiration to so many. Thank you, Monique J. of http://www.teamnaultauto.com, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
.-= Monique J.´s last blog ..Winnipeg auto news update for the week ending May 9, 2010 =-.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan May 10, 2010 at

Hey Monique, thanks so much for stopping by. Great to meet another member of Team Nault. You guys are really making things happen up North!! :-) But you make some really great points here Monique about the state of customer service so many businesses are in. I think though that the accountability the internet now brings to businesses will hopefully be a part of turning this trend the other direction.

Reply

AK Works May 10, 2010 at

Hi Marcus,

Excellent point on this. In the literary world, wouldn’t you call this “hubris”?

Lots of companies AND people suffer from hubris. They think they’ve reached a pinnacle – that everyone else needs to fall in line with them.

But this is exactly where competitors show up – by finding the weakness & exploiting that advantage.

I frequently challenge solicitors who have MLM businesses – I let them give them their pitch and then challenge them on where are they different from their competitors – MLM competitors and retail competitors. None of them ever have the answer. But if they did, they would certainly win me over.

Maybe this guy was just a CS rep or maybe he is a junior attorney – and taking orders. But if he is taking orders, then this attitude comes from top down.

Either way, the lesson is the same – don’t let hubris get in the way of market domination.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan May 11, 2010 at

Another great point AK….’How are you different’–maybe the greatest question a business can be asked. So many businesses these days are essentially copies of each other. Nothing makes them truly unique and stand out. They simply refuse to take off the blinders and really hear what consumers want….The hubris just continues, as you say, to get in the way…

Reply

AK Works May 11, 2010 at

Marcus,

I used to be asked that a lot when I did sales for SEO companies. Until it was MY own consulting company, I didn’t have a good answer. How was my employer different from the other “SEO” companies? I couldn’t tell. And I could not offer a reasonable “embellishment” either.

For my consulting, I have very specific deliverables. I tie that with business. I make that clear to my prospects and clients.

There is a bit of art, a bit of charisma. But no competitor can come at me and scream “SEO” – we do this and this and this – and still sound the same as me.

I focus on value- not feature. That’s what I need to do for my industry. That’s how I differentiate myself – and ultimately, my game plan to getting the type and caliber of clients that I want.

Reply

lawmant2020@penney lawyer sacramento May 21, 2010 at

I wonder how culture will evolve and where we will be at in 20 years with all these weird ideas. A Burrito Maven, though ? I guess it is part of the evolutionary process, though I think more about how lawyers will deliver legal services and doctors medical care and things of that nature.

Reply

Brad Harmon @ Big Feet Marketing May 17, 2011 at

The Salsa bars may be a regional thing, Marcus. My favorite burrito place is FreeBirds, but they waited around way too long to franchise and lost out on the gravy train of investment capital like Chipotle received from McDonald’s. We finally have a couple here in the DFW metroplex, but now I’m hooked on Chipotle.

I’m sure the official company response to why no desserts isn’t, “We’ve never thought about it.” At least, I hope it isn’t. It sounds like more of a training issue from all of their rapid growth to me, but as a customer it doesn’t really make a difference. Does it?

Did they send you some free burrito coupons? You should probably be earning stock as much as you eat there. ;)

Reply

Marcus Sheridan May 17, 2011 at

Haha Brad! Glad you found this article man. Now you can see why I get so many unusual search phrases, and a whole lot from Chipotle related stuff. But I’m glad to know you and I share this interest man. :-) BTW, I’m in the DFW area occasionally. I’d love to catch up sometime. Also, another blogger (who does pretty much just video) I follow lives in your area. His name is Randy Cantrell (he comments occasionally on TSL) and his blog is called The Bula Network.

Thanks again bud,

Marcus

Reply

Brad Harmon @ Big Feet Marketing May 17, 2011 at

Sounds great, Marcus. Just give me a heads up on Twitter the next time you’re in the area. Thanks for introducing Randy. I’ll have to check out his videos.

Reply

rachelle July 12, 2011 at

Please remove the photo of the Chipotle burrito. I took that photo back in 2005 (see my blog post here) and you are using it without permission.

Reply

Omar January 29, 2012 at

I like your take, I recently started a burrito shop and would love to here more of your ideas.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: