Four years ago, I wrote a BLOG about the general manager of a little Italian restaurant in Toronto, Canada. Little is not an accurate word. Perhaps to describe the size – only 121 total seats. But it does not describe its’ volume – probably the busiest restaurant in all of Toronto… and sales have nearly tripled since my friend Christian Alfarone took over ten years ago.
And let me give you the punch line now… if your company (or job) cares about customer loyalty, client retention and sales growth… then you have something to learn from my Italian friend.
Four years ago, my then, seven-year-old son, had a hockey tournament in Toronto. Tate was running a fever and not feeling well. We decided to go to dinner across the street to stay close to our hotel. As a forty-eight percent Italian… thanks ancestry.com… I’ve learned there are two types of Italian food: My mama’s cooking and everything else. And let’s just say most Italian restaurants are not my mama’s cooking!
When Tate and I got to Trattoria Nervosa Ristorante, it took the waitress seconds to realize that my son was not feeling well. A mother herself, she asked me if I’d given Tate any Motrin. I’m embarrassed to tell you my response.“Don’t worry”, she said. “There’s a pharmacy across the street. I’ll run over and get you some.” Who does that? Have you ever heard of such a thing? A waitress at a slammed packed restaurant taking the time to run across the street to get a kid some medicine.
The story gets better. Five minutes later the General Manager of the restaurant came up to my table and introduced himself. He shared with me that the pharmacy across the street closes early on Sunday. “But don’t worry,” Christian Alfarone says to me. “I put one of our busboys in a taxi. There is a 24-hour pharmacy ten minutes away. Your son will have Motrin soon.”
I was floored. What kind of restaurant manager empowers his waitstaff to walk across the street to buy medicine for one of their customers? And what kind of manager puts a busboy in a taxi to make sure they follow through with their promise? The story gets even better. When our meal was finished, I went over to the General Manager to thank him for getting my son medicine. I asked for the cost of the taxi and Motrin… so I could repay. And Christian then says to me, “It’s my honor to serve you and take care of your little boy.” Who does that? Yes, Trattoria Nervosa’s meatballs were just as good as my mama’s. But Christian Alfarone had done something even more impressive. He changed the way I look at customer service.
Most companies strive for customer satisfaction. That seems to be today’s benchmark… to satisfy our customers. But customer satisfaction is not enough. We should want our customers to love us… not just be satisfied. I call this level of service… Who Does That. There is a difference. A big difference.
This past weekend my family and I returned to Toronto to attend a St. Patrick’s Day party at our special Canadian friend’s home. Of course, we all went to Trattoria Nervosa’s to see Christian and have a wonderful dinner. And Jill and I returned the following day to have lunch with Christian and his lovely wife, Sherine. You see, I’ve kept in touch with Christian over the years. I’ve sent dozens of customers to his restaurant. I’ve become a raving fan. Just last week I spoke at Hyatt Hotel’s national sales conference. And guess who I talked about during my keynote…you got it…Christian Alfarone. Why? Because every sales person on this planet needs to understand what Christian lives and breathes. It’s not enough just to serve good food (or sell a great product). It’s not enough to strive for customer satisfaction. If your service is not at “Who Does That” level, then your competitor probably already has you beat.
Here’s the rub… if Christian never put one of his busboys in a taxi four years ago, I may never have returned to his restaurant. Would not have befriended him. Would never have become a raving fan. But Christian does not believe he is in the food serving business. He believes he is in the people serving business. And because of his “Who Does That” level of customer service, I’ll be eating his famous meatballs for many years to come. Sorry Mama!