When Service is More than A Transaction

I find myself talking about customer service a lot. It’s not simply because I’ve spent the last 20 years in a customer service position including leading a large customer care organization. It seems everyone has an opinion on what is great service because after all each and every one of us is in the position of being a customer multiple times a day.

When I think about the most positive customer service examples I find they are not about the service one provides but how it makes the recipient feels about themselves as a result of the service that was provided. I learned about this phenomenon first as a teenage boy and then most recently by my encounter with very special 93 year old who was simply enjoying her lunch in a small family owned restaurant.

I didn’t even remember her name. But that didn’t stop me from telling the story of a person and a place that made a lasting impression on me. When I was a teenager, my father and I would have dinner each Saturday night at a family owned restaurant named Tony Boffa’s in Middletown New York. As regular customers the hostess knew our name. It didn’t matter how crowded the restaurant or how busy the hostess was, she always greeted us with a smile and a “good evening Mr. Everett, good evening Mr. Everett’s son, it’s great to see you again. She also made it a point to stop by our table throughout the evening to make sure we were taken care of. Simply put she made us feel good about ourselves. Now while this was great service it wasn’t until a few years later that it really made an impact on me.

As a 17 year old, I took a date to Tony’s. Without my even saying a word I was greeted with “Good Evening Mr. Everett, I’ll have your table ready in just a second.” I’m happy to say it not only made an impression on me but my date as well!

I’ve told this story often because to me it was such a clear picture of what it means to deliver great service. Create an experience where people feel good about themselves and they can’t help but to tell others about.

But the story doesn’t end there. Even though this experience was over 30 years ago this simple lesson still guides me. I moved away from New York 21 years ago but Tony’s still remains my favorite restaurant because I still feel good about myself when I go there. If I’m ever in the area I make it a point to visit. They don’t know my name any more but I don’t mind. The memory of feeling special in this place still lingers. Last year I visited a customer in Middletown and after the meeting I insisted to my business associate and friend I was meeting that we go to Tony’s for lunch. On a Wednesday afternoon there were only 3 or 4 tables tables occupied. As I was once again sharing the story with my coworker and friend, I looked across the room and couldn’t help but think that person looks like the hostess from 30 years ago. What was bizarre about that thought was the hostess from my memories was a woman in her 60’s. Surely this was just my imagination. When it appeared our waitress knew this lady by name I decided to ask, “Excuse me, did the lady at that table used to work here?” – Her response was well she used to be the hostess but she retired a long time ago, she’s 93 years old! I could not believe what I was hearing. I went over to her table, interrupted her lunch and started my story with you don’t remember me but….. After a few moments, she looked up at me and said, “Of course I remember you Mr. Everett.”

I learned her name was Antoinette and within minutes she took me back into the kitchen to meet the staff and introduced me owner of this restaurant that I love. Even at 93, Antoinette Belloto once again made me feel special. I shared with her how even today I strive to apply the lessons she taught me as a 17 year old boy. Create a service experience where someone feels good about themselves and they will not only become a loyal customer, they can’t help but tell others.

How are you making your customers feel about themselves?