Listening to the car radio, it suddenly came back to me: the empty place setting, the black napkins, the untouched wine. Ensuring he went out in style. An act of kindness.
This past week I caught a portion of a CBC radio show called “Under the Influence”, hosted by Terry O’Reilly. I often catch him on Saturday mornings when I’m driving to or from the grocery store, but I never get the whole thing, just bits and pieces. He talks about advertising and marketing: its history, what has worked, what hasn’t, and interesting new trends. Fascinating stuff. The one I heard this week was about what he called “caring customer service”. O’Reilly is looking for tales of memorable customer service, stories from people who have received customer service that exceeded their expectations. He reminds his audience that happy customers have a positive impact on the bottom line.
He shared some wonderful examples to get the idea across to his listeners. There was a store where someone returned an item and was given friendly service along with a refund – even though she hadn’t purchased the item at that store. There was a New York hotel that sent a taxi – unsolicited – with blankets and hot chocolate to two of their guests waiting in an all-night line for a ticket booth to open, a father and son hoping to get passes to the NFL draft. These are companies who put their customers first – and earn their loyalty in the process.
Another example he used was Disney, a master at making its customers (aka guests) happy and one of my own all-time favourite examples. They work hard at managing long lines, making them as efficient and as pleasant as humanly possible. They train their staff to be alert to the needs of their customers, and to do so with patience and a smile. Every staff member sports a name tag that includes his or her home city or country, which fosters interaction and a sense of our global community. And their success at making their customers happy also makes their shareholders happy.
Hearing these stories took me back to a personal experience that exemplifies customer service that went above and beyond. In October 2011 I was in Winter Park, Florida for a very sad reason. My beloved cousin Alan had been sent home from the hospital; he was dying. Anyone who has gone through watching a loved one die knows how painful it is. It had been a wrenching period for everyone involved. Three of us were there at the end, and once we were left to our own devices we were at a loss, unsure what to do next now that our focus was gone. Alan’s niece came up with the idea for the three of us to go out to dinner at Alan’s favourite restaurant in Winter Park, Ruth’s Chris Steak House. And we would ask for his favourite waiter. It would be a farewell dinner for him.
I’d never been to a Ruth’s Chris before; to be honest I’d never even heard of it. When we asked the host for this specific waiter, he rearranged things so we could be served by him. I wish I could remember this waiter’s name; I’ll call him ‘Peter’. When Peter came to our table, I observed a quiet older man, somewhat formal in manner. We explained who we were, that we had asked for him because of Alan and we were sorry to have to tell him that Alan had passed away that morning. He didn’t become more effusive, although he immediately said how sorry he was to hear that. Then, without skipping a beat or changing his demeanor he said, “I think we need to change your place settings to have black napkins. Alan always preferred the black.” He came back with a change of linen, set an extra place at the table for Alan, including a wine glass, and also took the liberty of bringing a bottle of wine he said he knew Alan would like. When he poured the wine, he filled the 4th glass as well.
I can’t begin to tell you what an effect these actions had on us. It was a lovely idea to go to the restaurant to honour Alan, but Peter ensured that our evening was more meaningful – and cathartic – than we could have imagined. He knew better than we did how to pay tribute to the life of a wonderful man. And he did it in a low-key, professional manner. I will never forget him.
I have now read reviews of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which turns out to be a high-end chain with locations across the U.S., parts of Canada, and elsewhere, and with its head office in Winter Park. It gets very good online reviews: food usually very good, sometimes exceptional, occasionally missing the mark considering the price; atmosphere good; and, service always rated as excellent. One of the points Terry O’Reilly makes in his radio program is that people remember people, not products. I know I will always remember our waiter and what he gave us, the gift of spontaneous kindness. And I know that if I happen to be in an area with a Ruth’s Chris I will go there because of that experience.
There’s no doubt about it, good customer service makes a difference.