Friday, June 30, 2006

Palo Alto, Day Two: Customer service master class

After two pretty full days of synthesis and analysis with the folks at IDEO, I had to run back to the Westin and finish my piece of an RFI response we need to send out before the 4th of July holiday. By 8 pm, local time, I was pretty well spent. Still sunny, so out (finally) for a walk and dinner.

I remembered having a great meal at Francis Ford Coppola’s bistro, Niebaum Coppola Café, when it first opened some years ago. I walked by, spotted a little table right out front, looking out on a beautiful Northern California evening… and I was in.

One great salad, a really nice piece of sockeye salmon and a few glasses of excellent Oregon Pinot later (sorry, Francis!) I reached for my wallet and discovered I’d left it back at the hotel. Embarrassing, no?

I called the waitress over, who smiled and called the manager over. And then he proceeded to give me a master class in service. He knelt down – don’t make the customer crane their neck to look up – smiled, assured me that his job was to minimize my embarrassment, and suggested that if I wanted to get my wallet, come back and pay, then that would be just fine. Smiled again and thanked me for choosing Coppola that evening.

That’s it.

I did return – nice night for a walk, though outside my hotel I met the guy who ran the airport van, and who offered to drive me over and back. I gratefully accepted, returned to the restaurant, paid, slipped the driver a nice tip and made it back to my room in about 15 minutes.

Before turning in for the night, I shot off an email to the manager, Dave Grice. I thanked him again for making a difficult situation much easier. This was his response, in part: “I view my job as one that the purpose is to make people feel at ease.”

Notice what he didn’t say: my job is to maximize the profits in the dining room, or my job is to ride herd on the waitresses and busboys, or anything else related to the operation of the restaurant as we might think about them. Of course he manages all those things – but only in the context of the diner’s experience. So they’ll have a good time. Come back. Tell their friends. Give them a good review online.

That’s customer service, imagined not as something that competes with the things you have to do to run a restaurant – but instead, envisioned as a core element of the dining experience. Thanks, Dave, for the lesson in how to do it right.


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