Meadow CreekNews

My Very Best Customer Service Experience

Filed under Marketing, Sales/Selling, Small Business, Venture Capital and Start Ups on December 4, 2008

It was on Good Friday. My wife informed me that we were not going to be eating meat, but she wanted to stop in and get some fast food while we were out. I saw a sign for Skipper’s in South Everett, Washington and pulled in. I regretted doing so almost as soon as I had done it. The place looked run down and there weren’t many cars in the lot, although we were a little early for the lunch time crowd. As I got out of my car, an older, disheveled looking man was pulling a dead bush out of the landscaping. He called out welcoming us and hoped we enjoyed our lunch. I had not yet figured out if he was an employee doing some legitimate gardening or a homeless man that thought the dead plant would be a fine addition to his shopping cart. Being born and raised in New York, I am naturally suspicious of anyone going out of their way to be nice and expected that he was looking for a handout.

When we got in the restaurant and walked up to the counter there was another older and again somewhat disheveled looking man behind the counter. I decided then that there was probably no need to warn him about the guy in the parking lot stealing his dead plants. This fellow too couldn’t have been more friendly. Not friendly in that annoying way like the Starbucks employees at the drive-through that are instructed to be your friend for a couple of minutes while your latte is assembled by someone else. This guy had just the right touch and even helped us select the right meal to match what we wanted.

We placed our order and proceeded to a table. We were both taken back by all this friendliness. It was a little like being in Disney Land. The only difference was that Disney Land is a fantasy and you know it, this place was real, a little thread bare and in need of remodel, but it was ok because the people made all the difference. Shortly after taking our seats, another gentleman came to our table with our meals. It was fast food, paper plates and plastic forks, but he carried himself like he was the maitre de. He brought dignity to an otherwise unremarkable meal. He asked if there was anything else he could get us and then left saying he hoped we enjoyed our meal.

He came back a little later to again see if there was anything else we needed and to ask we were satisfied with the meal. This was not an attempt to just take up time as the restaurant had become crowded. My New York cynicism was melting away. I was truly impressed. We finished our meal and as we walked out, the man behind the counter said goodbye and the “maitre de” said “I hope you will honor us by coming back again.” The gentleman working on the landscaping waved as well when we were getting into our car.

We were in awe. Some simple fish and chips at Skipper’s had become a remarkable experience. While I am not in the area often and have not returned to that restaurant, it has had a profound impact on me. I can honestly say that every time I have been in a fast food restaurant since then, I have felt guilty for not being at Skipper’s. Not any Skipper’s, but that Skipper’s with those incredible people.

I have given a lot of thought as to how I might create that kind of experience in my own business. What distinguished the Skippers experience from all the others was the degree of genuine sincerity in the people. I am convinced that they meant what they said. It is not something that can be recreated by handing an employee a script. I’m not sure a teenager working at McDonalds is even capable of feeling the kind of sincerity that these guys conveyed. At that age, their entire existence revolves around keeping their parents in the dark about their lives. Sincerity is not induced by incentive compensation either. Incentives play on greed. That can create positive business results, but not sincerity.

Sincerity comes from employees loving their job. Employers and managers can certainly create an environment that facilitates this and that is an essential element. The more critical element is in the hiring process. You can’t just hire people that have the qualifications and want a job. You have to hire people that want to do the job you are hiring for and not just a job. If you love what you do, it shows. If you are just willing to do a job in order to get paid, it also shows.

All the customer service systems, procedures and incentives cannot replace employees that loves their work.

Richard Gabel

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