What Does an Old College Couch Have to do with Remarkable Customer Service?

In 2012, the original book, What’s Your Purple Goldfish? – How to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth, was released. This happened shortly after the time that I walked away from my job at a Google subsidiary to fry chicken for free at a fast casual restaurant startup in remote South Carolina.

For three and a half months, I provided pro bono consulting to the developing chain and worked in operations to learn the ropes of management (as hourly restaurant jobs had helped me pay for college). In the interim, I slept on an old college couch wedged between a ping pong table, and a mini fridge full of stale Miller Lite.

Most people would say that I had verifiably lost my mind, and most people would be right.

All I knew is that the service industry had my heart, and that I was meant to serve others through remarkable food, drink, and service. I felt called to devote my life to the hospitality industry in the form of leadership, purpose-centric service, and people development. People were counting on me to add value to their lives, and I had to make it work one way or another.

That’s where it all started, and I’ll always remember where I came from. Those humbling moments in our lives that help us define who we are, how we grow, and our ability to serve are everything. When is the last time that you’ve examined your “couch”?

I’m happy to say that everything got better. Flash forward a few years and I had become a full-fledged restaurant operator. One day, a manager at another one of our restaurants, Matt, told me that he had met Stan Phelps. Matt raved about Stan’s business insights and offered to let me borrow his copy of What’s Your Purple Goldfish? that Stan had given him. I picked the book up and I immediately felt compelled to shoot Stan an email.

I felt as though Stan had emptied out the contents of my brain and put them in a book as our ideals were strikingly similar. Shortly thereafter I started researching Stan’s work and found that he had just published an article about our restaurant and, lo and behold, the “lagniappe of the day” was one of my video newsletters.

Side note: I’m still waiting for Stan’s apology for unauthorized use of my “amazing” creative work but that’s a topic for another day.

Stan and I met about a month later and found out quickly that we both believed that the best way to differentiate in a “sea of sameness” was through touching the hearts and minds of the people that you serve. We hold that people that are congruent in their beliefs and actions inevitably attract one another.

But why is this so important?

Consider Friedman’s theory which states that the sole purpose of business is to provide a return to shareholders. This is the basis from where KPIs and quarterly dividend returns come from. Most of us accept this principle at face value, but the problem with this philosophy is that there’s never enough of a return and executives get caught in a perpetual quarterly return cycle. For better or worse, ROI and profits are what validate the efficacy of leadership in most businesses.

I’m sure you’ve witnessed this firsthand where quarterly top-line sales and bottom-line efficiencies have to be established. In my estimation, most companies choose the quick and easy route to drive top-line sales by discounting their brand and give just to get. To establish bottom-line core competencies, companies typically hack at the product, labor, and physical plant which all, in turn, diminish in quality and damage morale.

At the end of the day, sales cure all and there needs to be strategy to drive people in the door, ensure that they’re coming back, and makes your customers feel compelled to tell others about your remarkable experience.

In order to drive traffic, your first inclination is probably to start dedicating your budget to advertising in order to reach the masses. However, consumer attention has never been more fragmented and the value of traditional advertising has decreased significantly. I say “value” because advertisers provide a tremendous service but it’s too expensive, does not clearly correlate to top-line, and doesn’t capture attention despite how they might sell it.

Consumers now have millions of ways to spend their time…

Are we really bold enough to think that our message is so special that people will drop whatever they’re doing to pay attention to us? Do we believe that our customers put our businesses on some sort of pedestal and all clamor over the opportunity to share our newest promotion with their friends?

Perhaps we need to selflessly serve others and care first.

I would equate this principle to brushing your teeth. If you brush your teeth quickly and haphazardly every so often, then you’ll get the job partially done. Perhaps there are even some “quick fix” solutions that you can utilize such as mouthwash, white strips, and an annual cleaning.

In short, everything looks great on the outside, but the foundation is crumbling. It’s those that are willing to brush thoroughly, floss, and show dedication in their daily upkeep that will still have a beautiful set of teeth when they’re 80 years old while your competition is soaking their dentures in cleansers (if they haven’t already died of tooth decay).

The only possible thing that we can do to stand apart is to intentionally touch the hearts and minds of the people that we serve on a daily basis. All it takes is the willingness to consistently adapt to today’s business landscape and allocate the resources necessary. You owe it to yourself to be able to fail, test, and continually improve.

Your people are counting on you.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Check out this oldie but goodie from Seinfeld illustrating a classic customer service failure. It’s a great reminder basic execution should always remain the foundation when we go to serve others.