I’ve started to frequent Chipotle, the American burrito chain, a lot recently and it’s ease of ordering has forever altered me for other burrito ordering.

We’ve written before about how your customer’s experiences and expectations are set by other industries and so you must consider their other experiences when designing for them, segment by segment. Let’s talk today about how a new entrant into the market can change the way your customers’ experience you (and why you need to be paying attention).

I’ve frequented a lot of burrito places over the years. I’m a big fan of the cuisine. Quick, easy, ingredients you can see, and so on. I used to frequent a local chain for years – let’s call it Acme Burrito. It had a corner on the burrito market for years and a cult following. It has expanded and now competes with the big burrito chains that are moving in. I didn’t mean to break up with Acme Burrito it’s jsut that Chipotle is more convenient. They are everywhere and, specifically, they have one right next to our office.

I can’t say whether the restaurant or the food is better than other burrito chains or whether it just happens to work for me. The food is always consistent. Their marketing says the food is fresh and it does indeed look fresh. And they will change their gloves if you have a food allergy. (I do and any restaurant that makes an effort to not kill me gets a little more of my love.) Generally the staff is really friendly and the food tastes good. It has become my go-to lunch at least once a week.

If you don’t live in or frequent the US you may not be familiar with Chipotle. Here is a view of the marketing they have on their site about their experience. You can see in the photo the queuing formation that, in the US, has become a pretty common burrito ordering practice:  you walk from left to right (or right to left, depending on the store layout) instructing the person serving you to pick the ingredients you want in your meal while seeing the food options in all their glory behind the sneeze guard. This ordering style isn’t unique to Chipotle, Subway has been using it for years and Ceatro has helped a few quick serve chains implement it to improve their customers’ experience (and, let’s be honest, to encourage customers to buy more premium items). The key is the visuals, the progressive movement, and the perceived control of choosing what you get.

Here is how Chipotle describes it: “Lining Up: This is where the magic happens. Each ingredient is laid out in front of you so you can choose the perfect combination to make your perfect meal. You can watch the process as your burrito, bowl, tacos, or salad is prepared exactly the way you want it and handed to you almost instantly. “

I’m not going to go as far as to call it magic but it is pretty good. The progressive movement-going from left to right as you order- is very important because the customer’s anxiety stays low knowing that they burrito artist (is that their title? it should be) is going to escort them through the process. Even though the store is busy, all the customer needs to know ahead of time is that she wants a burrito, a taco, a salad, or a bowl. The rest of the time the burrito artist manages the the flow and supports their decisions all the way along. Burrito artist as cruise director essentially.

I didn’t realize how great this was until I went back to Acme Burrito recently. This was my go to burrito place for years. Back then I knew exactly what to do when I walked in. So this time I thought it would be the same. Or more so, I didn’t think. I walked in to the restaurant confident that my old instincts would kick in … and they didn’t. I stood there a little dumbstruck.

Where’s the line? How do I order? What do I need in my burrito? Will they change their gloves for me? Where do I pay? What normally goes in the burrito here? What has an up charge? Is he going to help me or will I have to go it alone? Will the person behind me be impatient?

There are two things factoring into my burrito ordering anxiety: familiarity and better innovations. If I hadn’t moved my office and my loyalties to Chipotle I would still know how to order at Acme Burrito. That is the familiarity issue. We are conditioned by what we do frequently and because of convenience, price, or loyalty we accept some things that might otherwise not be the best for us. Or er might not realize something could be better because we just don’t know what we haven’t yet experienced. Chipotle’s easy ordering experience and marketing about healthier food has shown me that there are easier ways to order a burrito and now I want that everywhere.

While I waited for the gentleman ahead of me to finish his quesadilla order I looked up at the menu for help. That was no help because there were so many options and such a complex pricing structure I couldn’t process it quickly enough. The Chipotle menus are very simple – everything is priced about the same based on which meat/veg you choose as the centerpiece of your burrito (except the guacamole which is so expensive you just don’t order it). I also looked through the 3×3 foot case of food options.  There was going to be no progressive movement because the case was a square. I would have to tell the burrito artist what I wanted and hope he didn’t have to criss cross the case filling my burrito, and slowing him down, because I didn’t know the proper way to order.

Sure, it’s a burrito. It shouldn’t give you anxiety. But it did. There were people behind me. The burrito artist was in a hurry. He gave me a look that was like “lady, everyone knows how to do this here” which upped the ante of ordering correctly. I succeeded at getting two burritos and then needed to get two tacos for a friend who was waiting in the car.

This is where the Chipotle progressive movement ordering system would have prevented me from screwing up: I asked for cheese as the fourth item when I needed to ask for it as the first item. “And a little cheese please,” I said meekly after looking at the taco construction and knowing there really was no where for the cheese to go.  The burrito artist looked up at me, raised his eyebrows in a way that made me know I broke an ordering rule, picked up the only cheese they had which had to be melted to the corn tortilla to be effective, dropped it on the grill to make it softer, and said “should have gone first.” Ouch.

I don’t know if Acme Burrito will need to change its ways as the Chipotle (and other big burrito chains) condition the market to order a certain way.  Maybe it part of its strategy to have this kind of ordering scheme. However, it is usually the case that when a competitor comes in and simplifies or improves things, the incumbent needs to make some moves to be less complex and then find their own ways to innovate their experience, including their product.