“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” – Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch
“One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.” – E. M. Forster
“As far as customers are concerned you are the company. This is not a burden, but the core of your job. You hold in your hands the power to keep customers coming back, perhaps even to make or break the company.” – Unknown
I write this week’s leadership message as I sit in a sidewalk café in Paris people watching and passing the time with my family. A once-in-a-lifetime vacation, I was able to bring my wife, daughter, and father- and mother-in-law with me on a tour through Europe. First Spain – to visit the home of my wife’s ancestors. Then Rome – to honor their Catholic upbringing and welcome in the new Pope. And finally Paris – a chance to see the city of love. One of the most beautiful cities in the world. And since my in-laws speak fluent French (at least the “Cajun” kind), this was an opportunity for them to ‘speak the local language’ in a foreign country. For them, this is a trip they would never have imagined taking. But thanks to my frequent flier miles and a bit of saving, my wife and I were able to treat them to this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip.
This trip has been one of many memories. I’ve watched my wife cry tears of joy, my daughter grow in understanding and appreciation, and my in-laws in awe at the beauty of Rome, Paris, and Madrid. But some memories haven’t been all that great. We’ve even suffered through food poisoning, near fatal wrecks from out-of-control taxi drivers. And even had our pockets picked in the subway. And as every tourist has experienced at least once, we’ve been treated quite poorly by many a waiter along the way.
Which brings me to my leadership lesson for this week – what really defines customer service. And to help make my point, I’d like to tell you the story of two experiences we had this week – both involving those idyllic sidewalk cafés in Paris. I’ll tell you just enough of the story to set the stage, but leave out a few key details to make my point later. For now, let’s see if you can guess which one left us with the most memorable experience.
- Brasserie L’Horizon – The first experience involved a crowded sidewalk café at a busy intersection. A busy restaurant with dozens of tables out front, nearly all of them full. After chasing down the waiter, we were seated outside table with a good view. The waiter spoke English (thank goodness, since I speak not a word of French), and we were given English menus as well. We watched the Parisians wander about their business. A bottle of wine and a few customary French dishes rounded out the moment.
- Brasserie Le Tourne Bouchan – The second experience involved a smaller sidewalk café on a not so busy street. Most of the customers were local, so we knew we were in for a different experience. All of the tables out front were taken, but we were quickly offered one inside. No problem, not all experiences have to include people watching in Paris. As the waitress gave us the menus (all in French), we quickly realized she spoke not a word of English (this ought to be fun). When all else fails, you order the plat du jour (plate of the day) and take your chances.
Any guesses yet? You are probably thinking that the Brasserie L’Horizon experience was the better of the two. Right? I mean, the views were spectacular, they spoke English, and I could even understand the menu. And yet if you guessed that one you would be wrong. Our experience at Brasserie L’Horizon was one you sometimes hear about – we were served by a rude waiter who clearly was not interested in serving us. Between condescending looks and chasing him down for our orders and our bill, we left feeling somehow taken advantage of.
Surprisingly, the experience at Brasserie Le Tourne Bouchan was the highlight of our day. We even came back the following day for a quick drink and another chat with the waitress. Why, you ask? Didn’t I say she spoke not a word of English? Well, that’s true. But the difference was entirely about attitude. Her passion was absolutely contagious. You could hear her throughout the restaurant. She was full of energy and enthusiasm. Seriously, I had no idea what the plate of the day was when she described it to us, but after she showed so much excitement in describing how it was made I just HAD to have it. Service was timely, on the spot, and frequent. We ended up ordering extra coffee just to linger and watch her work.
And so in the strangest way these two Paris café waiters/waitresses have given us a gift lesson in customer service. True customer service is not just what you do for your client, but also how you go about doing it. Your attitude, your passion, your energy, and your enthusiasm speak VOLUMES to those clients. There is an old cliché that says “Action speaks louder than words”. I would argue that “Attitude” may be just as important (if not more important) than “Action” in that old cliché.
And so I leave you with this thought – do your clients see the passion in your efforts? Do they see the fire in your eyes burning with enthusiasm for the job you perform? Or are you like that waiter that goes through the motions, performing your job but with little enthusiasm for the job you do?
No amount of additional service or value-add can overcome a poor attitude. Trust me on this one…