Pay It Forward

by Eric Samuels

In some ways, writing a blog reminds me of my early days in radio, hosting a show. You take it as something of a leap of faith that anyone is actually paying attention. So, when I do receive feedback, I’m legitimately touched that what I’ve written or said, impacted another person enough that they are sufficiently motivated to respond.

Last month, I received two very different pieces of feedback that were too coincidentally connected, to ignore.

First, was a comment from a complete stranger about my “How I Became A Customer For Life” blog, where I told the story of growing up in Montreal and becoming a St. Louis Cardinals fan. The email ended with a question:

So, have you managed to follow your own advice when it comes to customer service?”

Well, not always, but I certainly aspire to exceed expectations.

Let me tell you about an example of extraordinary customer service, that I was recently reminded of:

It was a nasty Vancouver evening in the fall of 2004. Not the kind of light rain that’s marginally annoying (and I can assure you that no one who’s actually from the West Coast refers to it as liquid sunshine) , but a pounding, driving downpour that keeps even the die-hards indoors.

A group of four of us were having dinner at a restaurant, before attending a Sarah MacLachlan concert at GM Place. Dinner was running a little late, so I asked our server if he could call us a cab, as our cheque arrived, anticipating that taxis would be in high demand.

That was an understatement. After paying the bill, we waited 20 minutes for a cab. Our server made two more calls to check the status of our ride and was given a rather non-specific commitment.

I was a little anxious to get to the venue, as I had made a commitment to see the opening act. The Server, whom I ‘d never met before that evening, was aware of this, and after his final attempt to call and secure us a cab, he borrowed a car from the manager and insisted on driving us to the concert venue. We gratefully accepted his unprompted offer.

During the brief drive to the arena, we chatted about favourite concerts, and our server-turned driver, revealed that he was “the world’s biggest Tragically Hip fan,” and had seen the band perform, dozens of times. As he pulled up to our gate entrance, I handed him a sum of cash that I felt was commensurate with his extraordinary service. He smiled and refused. Wow!

Think about that for a second. It’s certainly no secret that those make a living as servers in the restaurant business, subsist on gratuities. In fact, this is the most fundamental model of customer service: Quality of service = % of Tip!

But he had refused my effort to compensate him for his time and effort. He seemed genuinely happy to have been able to help us out, and to get us to the venue in time to see the opening performer. Now that’s extraordinary customer service!

The next day, as I retold the story to more than a few people (that’s what you do when you experience superb customer service), I realized that I could do something special for this guy. So I called in a favour.

Several weeks later, it arrived. A Tragically Hip poster, autographed by every member of the band, with one added name hand-written below the signatures with the word “Thanks!” That added name belonged to the “World’s Biggest Tragically Hip Fan,” our server, who had driven us to the concert . I had this one-of-a-kind piece framed, found out when our server was working next, and delivered it to the restaurant. He was surprised and seemed genuinely ecstatic. I admit to feeling pretty good myself!

I’d actually forgotten about this event of nearly 8 years ago. But, as I mentioned off the top, I received two different pieces of connected feedback this week. Here’s the second.

I was Facebooked by an acquaintance from my days in the broadcast industry. She told me that during a recent dinner conversation with friends in Edmonton, the waiter overheard them talking about the radio business and asked if they knew ‘Eric Samuels.’ The waiter went on to tell his version of the story of that night in Vancouver, ending with the autographed Tragically Hip poster. Her Facebook note ended with the following (which I offer with her kind permission):

“I’m certainly we’re not the first to hear that story. You really made him feel special.”

Now I admit that I don’t do this kind of thing very often. Circumstances demanded that I do something, and opportunity allowed me to reciprocate in the manner in which I did. And here we are, 8 years later, and it’s still being talked about.

Extraordinary effort makes for great story-telling, and great stories are told and retold, over and over again. Plus, it’s not bad having the reputation of being an excellent tipper. Whenever I dine out, I seem to get excellent service!

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