Tales of customer service that go the extra mile? I’ve got one.

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 RuthsChrisimmediately 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.

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34 Responses to Tales of customer service that go the extra mile? I’ve got one.

  1. debscarey says:

    Jane, I love this story & think the suggestion of having the meal was an excellent one. It’s so difficult knowing what to do in such sad circumstances – but your waiter certainly had it absolutely right. I’m wiping away a tear now. Also how wonderful that the radio host you name checked took the time to visit your blog & to comment.

  2. When I got to the part of your post where you described the waiter setting a fourth place and then filling the wine glass – tears came to my eyes. So beautiful and thoughtful and meaningful. What a difference it makes when a person acknowledges our feelings of grief when we lose someone close. Too often, others end up denying us the right to feel out of their own discomfort with the very thought of loss. Thanks for this great post – I am a died in the wool lover of CBC radio and thoroughly enjoyed your mention of it and of course Terry O’Reilly’s response. Thank you.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Francis. It’s an excellent observation about the discomfort many people experience in dealing (or not) with other people’s loss. I remember my mother telling me when I was about 15 and a friend’s father died that I had to call her and go see her. When I said that I wouldn’t know what to say, she replied that it didn’t matter what I said, I just needed to be there for her. I’ve had to remind myself of that time and time again. My mom was right, as I came to know from personal losses not so long after that.

      I’m enjoying your blog, which I learned about through your husband’s blog. Isn’t the blogosphere a great place?! I hope you have great success with your new book.

  3. Jane – I’ve received an overwhelming amount of email after airing that episode. My wife found your blog online, and I have to say your story is one of the most moving. Thank you for sharing it.

    All the best,

    Terry O’Reilly

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Terry, it is a pleasure to hear from you. I love your show. You have caused me to think hard about different perspectives more than once. Good customer service is one of my favourite topics. It should be so easy – and it makes both the giver and the receiver feel good, aside from helping the company – yet it seems to be so hard! Thank you for reminding me of this special family moment. Keep up the good work. Jane
      p.s. Thanks to your wife!

  4. Laura says:

    Thanks Janie for capturing this poignant memory for our family. It is heartwarming to know that it resonates with so many of your readers.
    Fondly, another of Alan’s nieces

  5. Gallivanta says:

    Lovely post. And customer service makes all the difference. And this should not only apply to commercial private enterprises. Government offices could take note too 🙂

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for your comment. I am sure that everyone who reads it will have the same smile on their face that I do when they read your last sentence! To be fair, in Canada we now have govt agencies called Service Canada (and ServiceNB for our province) which do a pretty good job with service – which of course is their mandate.

  6. What a touching post. That personal, sincere touch does make all the difference.

  7. That is a wonderful memory. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. We sometimes forget how much a simple act of kindness and compassion can mean.

  8. robincoyle says:

    That waiter was brilliant. He wasn’t looking for a big tip. He was looking to comfort.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Robin. I think you’re right, that’s exactly what he was doing. And he was very good at it. I could certainly see why he was my cousin’s favourite waiter and, knowing my cousin, Alan was probably the waiter’s favourite customer as well.

  9. Here’s to Alan. And ‘Peter.’
    Once again I am reminded of the simple fact that the best things in life aren’t things.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thaanks, Maurice, well said. And you live in a part of the world renowned for exactly that. I can recall someone I know here who at one time in his life was a travelling salesman with territory in Newfoundland telling stories about knocking at a door in a rural area there and being asked in for tea before he even had time to say what he was there for! Now that I think of it, I never heard whether he made a sale or not!!

  10. Mrs. P says:

    Reblogged this on Destination Unknown and commented:
    A wonderful example of going the extra mile…hat’s off to Ruth’s Chris Steak House and one particular wait staff.

  11. jennypellett says:

    That waiter’s response to your situation came from the heart – a life time of staff training sessions couldn’t teach that kind of compassion

    • Jane Fritz says:

      It’s interesting you should say that, Jenny. Another example given in the radio story was a company that based their interviewing on exactly the fact you raise. They interviewed looking for empathy, believing that you can’t train people to be empathetic. They then trained the successful applicants for the other skills they wanted.

  12. missbeth32 says:

    It’s amazing the power of the human spirit. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Beth. Connecting with others makes all the difference. My cousin Alan was very special that way himself – with everyone he encountered. He had obviously connected with ‘Peter’, and ‘Peter’ paid it forward with us.

  13. I LOVE Ruth Chris Steak House. We went there one year to celebrate my hubby’s birthday–at a time when money was tight for us. It was obvious we were sharing items to reduce cost but our waiter never once made us feel less for it. She was incredibly attentive and helpful. Some upscale restaurants may not have been so sensitive.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Hi Carol. Thanks for sharing another great example of good customer service making a big difference. It sounds like it is part of the culture at Ruth’s Chris.

  14. alesiablogs says:

    Reblogged this on alesiablogs and commented:
    I appreciate this poignant account from a blog I follow that brought tears to my eyes and healing all at the same time. Thank you To Robby Robin for sharing her journey with us.

  15. alesiablogs says:

    If you ever come to Seattle, you and I are going to Ruth Chris. This was a beautiful story and so healing for me in more ways than I can tell you.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Alesia, this is an invitation I wouldn’t want to pass up! I’d better put Seattle on my list; I haven’t been there for a long time. If I have helped your healing process in any way, I am really pleased.

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