Twenty years ago I had the best customer service experience in my life. My friends and I were getting our teeth kicked in by life and we needed something to lift our spirits. The five of us shared a love for food and no desire to cook. The choice was obvious. We decided to go out to eat. All of us are very particular about service and hadn't had many positive experiences since we moved 3000 miles away for college. I wasn't in the mood for any foolishness that day, and I believe the Lord knew my heart.
We walked into the restaurant, and BAM! It was clean (won't He do it?). Many of you can take clean restaurants for granted, but we could not. Since our relocation, our relationship with the food industry had gotten really real. Up until then, I had never seen anyone fry okra, smoke a cigarette, and talk on the phone while working for a board certified restaurant. Apparently, that's common in some places.
Next, and this was really a shock, we were greeted when we came in. An employee actually said hello and asked us where we wanted to sit. Wait, what? What kind of sorcery was this? Usually the hostess would look us up and down, then walk away. We all felt like there was a hidden camera and we were part of a reality show. I didn't understand what was going on....but I liked it.
It was a beautiful day, so we opted to sit outside. Our server was amazing. I don't remember his name, but I remember his service. He greeted all of us, made direct eye contact, and asked us what we would like. Some of us knew, and some of us needed his help. He was patient. He took his time. He listened to all of us. He never interrupted us.
When we had questions, he answered them. If he didn't have the answer, he inquired from staff members who did. We were talking like we were old friends, and that's when I realized that he wasn't writing anything down. I don't know if he had a photographic memory, but our orders were complex. Substitutions, medium-well this, a side of that, extra fries, you name it. I remember there were three different dark cola drinks ordered. In my soul, I just knew he was going to mix up our drinks. I was wrong. Dr. Pepper, root beer, and Pepsi all made it to the correct recipients. Absolutely amazing.
He got all of our orders correct. There were no mistakes. Not one. Throughout our meal he would show up when we needed him. He didn't lurk, but he was definitely paying attention to us. In a restaurant full of people, we felt like we were his only customers. Our glasses stayed full, our food was delicious, and we all had a wonderful time.
When our meal was over, he told us that he had a good time being our server, thanked each of us for our patronage, and asked us to come visit again. My friends and I were going through some toxic situations at that time. We needed to feel appreciated. We were about to give up the one thing that we would never be able to replace........our time. In exchange, we wanted quality service. He helped us by providing what each of us needed that day, and in return, he got a fat tip.
Have you ever stopped to think about the correlation between customer service and personal relationships?
How important is customer service to you? What qualities do you look for in a relationship? Are you capable of providing the things that another person needs? What do you need to make a relationship successful? Any time I receive poor service or end a relationship, I have a flashback to the best service I’ve received or the most successful relationship I've had.
When I was an undergraduate, I was in a terrible car accident that left me with three broken ribs and a broken ankle. Even though he worked two full time jobs, my boyfriend at the time rearranged his schedule to accommodate me. He would take an early break from his first job to pick me up for school. My breakfast and medicine were waiting for me in the front seat. He would take a break from his second job to pick me up from school and drop me off at home. Naturally, my food was waiting for me at the house (I don’t play any games when it comes to my food).
For two months we repeated this cycle. Twice a day, for five days a week. At the time, I didn’t look at this as a big deal. We always took care of each other. I worked full time and went to school. On my days off I cooked, on his days off, he cooked. If one of us wanted to go out with our friends, we would give the other a heads up and make sure they had everything they needed before we left. We communicated and made time for each other. We both worked very hard to make sure the other had what they needed and wanted. Separately or together, we were happy. We didn’t complete each other because we were complete before we met. To date, it was the best relationship I’ve ever had.
If my accident would have happened one year before it did, I don’t think we would have made it. Traumatic experiences bring out one’s personality in ways I’ve never seen before. You witness how people solve problems and handle stress. A lot of people don’t handle these things well and often focus on themselves. When we first got together, our relationship was very different. We are totally opposite from each other. We were from different regions of the country, our family dynamic was not the same, and we had very different philosophies on communication. He had never dated anyone that required him to verbally express his feelings.
I don’t get down like that. I have this thing about energy. If I feel negative energy or if I feel uncomfortable, my entire mood and demeanor will change. It’s not good. When we first got together he would withdraw from difficult situations and I would push him to talk. We both dropped the ball. If you care about someone, you must respect their approach to problem solving. I couldn’t be in a relationship with someone who didn’t communicate, and he couldn’t be in a relationship with someone who tap-danced on every last one of his nerves.
In order to save our relationship, we decided to have a talk. I believed he was a good man worth investing my time and energy in, and he believed that he loved me. If this was going to work we both had to compromise. He started communicating more, and in return, I shut up. Man, was that difficult! I always have something to say. I let him find his voice and he eventually started initiating difficult conversations.
It was a huge adjustment for both of us, but with a load of patience and a whole lot of prayer, we worked it out. The level of trust we had was dope. I remember one morning I woke up and my car was gone. I called him and he told me he took it to get detailed and he was on his way back. It wasn’t my birthday or any special occasion, he just wanted to do it. By the time my accident happened, we were in an awesome place. I didn’t worry about anything because I knew he had everything covered.
I believe that there are 10 areas that should be addressed to ensure quality customer service and maintain a healthy relationship. I’ll use myself as an example, but this model can be applicable to everyone.
#1- APPROPRIATELY GREET ME. You might want to observe me for a minute or two before you approach me. People have assumed that because of my gender, race, or clothes that it was acceptable to approach me in a disrespectful manner. If the goal is to interact with me, do it the right way. If you aren’t sure what that is, then you don’t need to approach me at all.
#2- I AM AN INDIVIDUAL. TREAT ME LIKE ONE. Whether a customer or a willing participant in a relationship, God only made one of me. When you approach me or interact with me, please remember this. What might have worked on the last person doesn’t have anything to do with me. Cater to my individual needs for the best results.
#3- LISTEN. There is always a chance that I may not know what I want. If you have a brief conversation with me, you’ll definitely know what I don’t want. I don’t have any problem expressing myself, so if you take a moment, I can provide you with the information you’ll need to navigate our time together. P.S. part of listening is paying attention. Details matter!
#4- BE KNOWLEDGEABLE. How can you help me if you don’t know what you have to offer?
#5- SOLVE PROBLEMS. What are we going to do if I need something that you don’t have? How will you handle the situation?
#6- ANTICIPATE MY NEEDS. Based on our brief time together, you should have enough information to know what I want before I ask for it. A few questions are ok, but if previous steps were taken, you should have a good idea what I’m looking for.
#7- BE CONSISTENT. If you start off strong, I’m going to need you to keep that same energy throughout our interaction. Consistency builds trust. Trust leads to more encounters. People feel better about spending time and money when they’re comfortable. Consistency can often look like sincerity, and who doesn’t like that?
#8- BE ATTENTIVE. There are things that I will need throughout our time together. It is not necessary for you to stalk me, but if you pay attention to what I’m doing and ask questions, you’ll have a better chance of meeting my needs.
#9- BE SINCERE. No one wants to feel like a burden. When people feel like you are in the moment and you actually like being around them, the experience is better. If someone feels like your presence is an obligation, it isn’t enjoyable. Now I understand that in customer service this is your job, but no one likes an unpleasant interaction. Nothing is more unpleasant than an associate looking at you like they want to take your life everytime you ask a question!
#10- SHOW APPRECIATION. When our time has come to an end, thank me. Money is replaceable, but my time isn’t. I could have spent it with anyone or anywhere, but I chose to be at this exact location with you. I can show my appreciation with a purchase, tip, or investing more of my time. You can show your appreciation by thanking me.
Humans are special. We can be selfish and solely focus on our needs while still wanting to be in the presence of others. A lot of interactions end poorly because people don’t take the time to consider the needs of others. We all have had different life experiences, and these shape our views and behavior. Before unleashing yourself on the public, consider the information I shared. It’s possible that your next customer service relationship will be better than you could have ever anticipated.
Marriage Inc. | Relationship Blog Contributor