I had never been to Durango before.  For that matter, I had never been to Colorado before.  After a couple of short flights, I was sitting in the small mountain community known as Durango, Colorado.

The weather was perfect! The sun was shining and the temperature was in the upper 60’s.

After checking in at my hotel, it was a hair past 1:00pm local time (making it a little after 2:00pm back home) and I was starving.  Having never been to Durango before, I decided I would ask the concierge for lunch recommendations.

As any good concierge would, he asked what type of cuisine I was in the mood for.  I responded, “It doesn’t matter to me. If you were only going to eat lunch once in Durango, what would be the best place to go?”  

He recommended a local place which, according to him, “has the best lunch in town!” So off I went.

The hotel was nestled on the West side of downtown, with the Animas River and Perins Peak on the other side. The sound of water rushing down the Animas River had a magical calming effect. You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful setting.

As I walked across the street and into Durango’s quaint downtown, I did what any distrusting Millennial would do, I pulled out my phone and opened Yelp.

I knew it! For some reason I knew I couldn’t trust the concierge’s recommendation.  Not that he didn’t seem trustworthy; after all, he had no reason to lie.  It wasn’t that we were generations apart in age – there couldn’t have been more than five years difference in our ages.  But my distrusting self wanted a second opinion for lunch, and according to Yelp, his recommendation was terrible!

I was only going to be in Durango for 6 meals, less than 48 hours. Why would I want to waste one of my meals at a restaurant with 2.5 out of 5 stars on Yelp?  I wouldn’t!

After quickly scanning Yelp for other restaurants nearby, I settled on a local place with 4 out of 5 stars –  and I wasn’t disappointed.

But here’s a critical point – people would rather trust a few strangers they’ve never met than trust one person face-to-face.  Argue all you want, but it’s true.

A few days after returning from Durango I was having coffee with a friend of mine who owns a local restaurant. He shared how amazing it is that people passing through town on the interstate “discover” his restaurant.

With no signs, no advertising, and no parking, strangers discover his restaurant on a regular basis.  How?  Well like me, these travelers are using their phone to look for places to stop and eat lunch as they’re passing through town. We live in a world where our messaging about our business doesn’t matter nearly as much as what others’ say about us.


1 – Advertising is NEVER as effective as other’s recommendations.

The most creative, cleverest advertising will never outperform the effectiveness of a few positive recommendations from others.  The restaurant in Durango, or my friend here locally, could spend thousands of dollars each month trying to convince people to come dine at their restaurants and it would all be in vain if others (via the numerous review tools) encouraged people to avoid the restaurants.

With apps like Yelp, Zamota, and even Facebook,, your potential customers now have 1,000’s of other peoples’ recommendations in the palm of their hand. This can be extremely powerful – or extremely frightening, depending on your perspective.

Just prior to Covid, we took a weekend trip to Houston.  And although most of our time was spent at the Galleria and at the Houston Children’s Museum, when we wanted to find a “good” place to eat, so out came my iPhone and the Yelp app.

The search criteria was simple – a great kid-friendly place for breakfast on a Sunday morning. Yelp found exactly what we were looking for, a restaurant with over 1,000 reviews and 4.5 out of 5 stars; a place famous for their green eggs and ham. This place was Baby Barnaby’s Café.  And it lived up to the reviews!.

But here’s where it gets interesting:

1) There were literally over 100 restaurants that would have been closer.

2) We had to get up and leave early because, according to the reviews, this place got packed and the wait could get long.

3) We completely ignored billboards and in-room magazines chock-full of ads for restaurants.

4) We chose to get up early, get the kids (all four of them) up and ready, and drive across town to a place we’d never been and never heard of before – solely based on the recommendations of people we have never met.

2 – The Most Effect Advertising Is Creating Remarkable Experiences

As the world becomes flatter, as Thomas Friedman would say, advertising mediums will continue to become more diverse and scattered. Not that long ago, most business owners had less than a 1/2 dozen options when it came to advertising their businesses.  Today there are easily 30 or more options to consider when developing your marketing strategy.

Which is the best for you? Which will yield the highest RIO?  Even companies with the most sophisticated marketing teams, and all the data they could  possibly want to validate their every decision, are having difficulty when deciding where to allocate their marketing dollars for the highest ROI.

Today, wise entrepreneurs know they must instead spend time carefully engineering experiences.  They view every interaction with a customer as an opportunity to create a remarkable customer experience.

Howard Schultz calls Starbucks a third-place. Not home, not work, but a third place.  A place you want to meet your friends and family.  A place you want to go for an experience.

Blake Mycoskie created an experience each time someone purchased a pair of his shoes by donating another pair to someone in a third-world country in need of a pair of shoes. This is an experience that customers couldn’t help but share with others.

Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw spent years visioning what Zingerman’s would one day look like.  A big part of what they envisioned had to do with experience. Today their mission statement clearly defines what the customer experience should look and feel like:

We share the Zingerman’s Experience,
Selling food that makes you happy.
Giving service that makes you smile in passionate pursuit of our mission.
Showing love and care in all our actions to enrich as many lives as we possibly can.

3 – Your Opinion Really Doesn’t Matter

We live in a world of anonymous reviews and instant feedback.  With countless places to share their experience, each and every customer now has the world at their fingertips.

Statistics used to show that for every good experience, people would tell two or three other people.  And for every bad experience, they would tell ten or more people.  But now, with a smartphone in every pocket, their potential reach becomes global.

WARNING: The following may make you a bit uncomfortable.

You can believe that you and your team provide the most remarkable customer experiences in the world.  You can believe that your customer service is phenomenal, but your opinion doesn’t matter.

Only the opinions of your customers matter.  If you believe you provide remarkable products and service, and yet you have 2 out of 5 star ratings on Yelp, then your opinion is skewed.  And your opinion IS  costing you significantly.

I’m in no way suggesting that you should make changes based on every negative review that you receive. I am suggesting that you pay attention to what the majority says, and make decisions from there.

Now what?

The first place we must begin is with our beliefs. If we’re going to succeed in this ever connected world, we have to ensure that what we believe to be true about our level of service aligns with what our customers actually experience.

A study by Bain & Company found that 80% of companies believe they are delivering superior service.  And yet, only 8% of the customers from those same companies believe that they are receiving superior service.  Meaning that most businesses are out of touch with reality.

After aligning our beliefs with our customer’s beliefs, we have to admit that we  now live in an experiential world. Society today craves experiences far more than things. It’s no longer just about the thing you provide – it’s about the experience you create. People will always talk more about what they experienced over the weekend than what they purchased.

You can, and should, use this fact to your advantage. Look for opportunities to improve each and every customer interaction.  Look for ways to make each customer feel special. Put yourself in their shoes and view each interaction through their eyes.

Maybe, just maybe, that lesson we learned when we were young could completely alter the future of our business:
You never truly understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.