A friend of mine asked our waiter to wrap the leftover portion of her lunch. The waiter said “it’s pretty small.” My friend was taken aback and asked, in a little more demanding tone: “could you just wrap it to go?” Later, the waiter looked at the little portfolio with the bill and my credit card sticking out and asked: “do you want me to take this?” As he moped back to the cashier’s desk, my friend and I talked about the fact that he probably needed a different job, one that didn’t involve people.
You might think that there aren’t many qualifications required to be a waiter, but that’s not true. Customer service requires skill and a sense of what to say and not say. I’m not sure I’d be a good waiter, but I know a good waiter when I see one and I know a bad waiter when I’m unfortunate enough to have him at my table. No slight to women intended, but since my examples involve men, I’m going to stick with masculine pronouns.
Sometimes, being a customer also involves knowing what to say and when to say it. We didn’t complain about our waiter. His tip suffered, but not miserably and the next time we go to lunch, we might remember that experience and try the restaurant 100 yards up the road. When required, I will speak up.
My daughter and I once went to a plaza in our town to watch the Memorial Day Parade. We went early, so I could park my truck in the back row. We put lawn chairs in the bed – yes we looked like the Clampetts – so we could easily see over the crowd. Since we were early, we decided to get something to drink at Friendly’s, a local fast food restaurant famous for their ice cream. We stepped up to the take-out counter. I ordered coffee and my daughter ordered a chocolate milkshake. The waiter said:
“I’m not making a milkshake at 8:00 in the morning.”
I saw the sad expression on my daughter’s face and I motioned the waiter aside. I pointed to a sign that said “Happiness – One Scoop at a Time” and I said:
“You’re not only going to make her a milkshake, you’re going to deliver it with a smile.”
In contrast to the Friendly’s store that was ultimately closed during one of the times the chain was in bankruptcy, we have a soft-serve ice cream store in town. This place is family owned and always; always, always, always, serves ice cream with a smile. It can be 100 degrees, the line can be out to the street, and you can order a Banana Split and the clerk will be thrilled to make it for you. In a few weeks, I’ll start driving by this place to see the sign announcing Opening Day. I will post that on Twitter and several friends will instantly feel better. That’s how powerful good customer service can be.
I learned good customer service from my dad. He managed a small bowling alley in the town in which he and I had been born. I set pins there for a while and then I started helping him behind the counter. Whenever I would buy myself a bag of chips, my father would tear it open and place it on the counter. “never eat in front of the customers without offering to share.” Every request, from new towels by the hand-wetters, to a freshly sharpened pencil, to a refill on their cup of coffee was answered with a smile. Whatever it took to make them happy, lest they take their business to the bowling alley across town.
I also learned this lesson the hard way when I worked for the catering company that provided food to the Gateway Clipper Fleet in Pittsburgh. Estimating the size of the nightly dinner dance crowd was far from an exact science. One night, I arrived at the boat with one less tray of rigatoni and au gratin potatoes than we were likely going to need. My boss told me to watch the portion size and if anyone asked for more, to suggest that they come back for seconds. One such customer approached my serving station. When I suggested that he return for seconds, he signaled to my boss. After a brief discussion, my boss looked at me and said sharply: “What’s wrong with you? If the customer asks for more potatoes, give him more potatoes!”
The customer left, happy, satiated and probably thinking “that kid needs to find a job where he doesn’t have to work with people.” He was right. I’ll save my struggles with customer service for another post. Until then, give ‘em what they want.