Marketing Moments of
Magic & Misery

By Dave Ostrander

Anything that touches the customer is a marketing issue. Anytime a customer comes into contact with any aspect of a business, however remote, is an opportunity to form an impression. These words are from a book called Moments of Truth by Jan Carlzon. Mr. Carlzon is the former president of Scandinavian Airlines and turned around the failing company to on of the most respected and profitable air carriers in the world.

Some examples of Moments of Truth in a pizzeria are:

  • How the phone is answered.
  • Drive by shooting of the exterior of your building.
  • Parking lot and entrance appearance.
  • The in person greeting and acknowledgement of the customer.
  • Counter and staff appearance.
  • Fun with pickups.
  • Sweetest sound in the world - your name coming off someone else's lips.
  • Driver appearance and greeting of customers at the door.
  • Driver 'Road Rage' vs. 'Random act of Kindness.'
  • Customer complaints. In person or on the phone.
  • Professionalism, comments and language of staff in presence of customers.

These are the main 'Moments of Truth' in our pizzerias, and notice that they are all controlled by people. Some moments are not controlled by people, such as advertisements: (radio, newspaper, television, flyers, etc.) Let's deal with the people to people moments we have control over. Or think we have control over.

You and I have all seen the good, the bad and the ugly of customer service. I wonder why we rarely experience unforgettable service. After all, it's relatively free. I'm convinced that management has not trained the staff to deliver even mediocre service. I'm convinced that staff mimics management. I'm convinced that one outstanding, friendly "Director of First Impressions" can be the primary reason that you have a loyal customer base. On the flip side, I'm sure that you have people working for you that turn off and turn off lots of customers a week. I've met both kinds and we need to explore why we don't deliver or receive 'Knock Your Socks Off' service at least once a day.

The key to the lock is, hire friendly. I can teach job skills and systems but I can't teach friendly or positive attitude. I used to try but it ended up frustrating me as well as the recipient of my attentions. I concluded that certain people should explore careers outside of customer service. They shouldn't be allowed to ruin your business, one dumb move after another.

In my book, Big Bucks with Big Dave, I discussed my pre employment screening process in the chapter that spells out How to Hire Eagles. We decided to hire tough and then manage softly. By waiting for the new hires that had 'The Right Stuff', we rarely had to deal with attitude. With positive attitudes everywhere, we were able to give the crew that "At Your Service" mentality. Sure, we had our share of meltdowns during rushes and when under mega pressure times. These incidents were very short lived and the kitchen comedians kicked in with humor to salvage the moment.

I was very subtle in the messages I sent my crew. One of the messages they received was stamped across every paycheck they ever got at Big Dave's. The seven magic words I big red letters were A LOYAL CUSTOMER MADE THIS PAYCHECK POSSIBLE. A large banner at the customer order area shouted; YOU'RE THE BOSS AT BIG DAVE'S. I coined little acronyms like: SIN, Solve it Now, and TLC, Think like a customer. XOG, Hugs and Kisses, Grandma, never say anything to a customer you wouldn't say to your Grandma.

A few summers ago, I was in a pickle. I had a calendar conflict. I was going to be on family vacation in Pennsylvania and then off to New England for mini family reunions. Right in the middle of the 30-day trip, I was committed to present a seminar back in Michigan. Not a big deal unless you're camping on a mountaintop two hours from the Philly Airport, your flight leaves at 6 in the morning and your family is sleeping in the motor home.

My sister-in-law lived in the area and told me there were little or zero chances of getting a cab. She did call a friend who owned a limousine service and arranged for me to be picked up at 3 a.m. and driven to the airport and be waiting for me when I caught the red eye back to Philly later that night. Sure enough, when I eased out of the camper and walked to the gate of the campground the limo was there. My driver, Jeff, greeted me warmly. I rode shotgun.

We started off. He said he brewed a fresh pot of coffee at home because there were no restaurants open at this time in the morning for miles. WOW! Then he asked me if I wanted cream (real I might add) or sugar. I loved this guy, he was reading my mind. Then he asked me if I would care for a piece of fresh fruit or a bagel. Then he asked me what kind of music I liked. He had a complete CD library. We were running a little behind and he reassured me he would make the airport with enough time to catch my flight. We set up the radar detector and sped to downtown Philadelphia. We got there with 20 minutes to spare.

My driver told me he would be picking me up at the arrival gate at 9pm when I was due back. The rest of the day was fantastic. Rental car was great. The seminar was one of my best. My return flight to Detroit was good. Then I got the bad news. Our aircraft was grounded in Chicago with mechanical problems. Normally this would be no big deal, but after attempting to call the limo company and getting the recording, I got nervous. I would not be arriving at 9pm; it was looking a lot like midnight. I attempted to get the message to the limo company through my sister-in-law and my wife back at the campground, but they couldn't find a real live person in all of their calls. I was wondering how I was going to arrange for ground transportation from the Philly airport to a campground 100 miles to the west in the boonies, at midnight. This situation was out of my control. After I deplaned in the City of Brotherly Love, I walked out to the sidewalk and, you guessed it, Jeff was waiting for me in the assigned place. I couldn't believe it. An average employee would have determined that I was a no show and left. It all pays the same. Not Jeff. He called the airline and found out my flight was going to be delayed indefinitely. He kept on calling until he got the real arrival time, and was there for me as promised. We were both dog-tired. We would both be up for nearly 24 hours before the day was done. It was my time to spring for the coffee.

On our long ride back I asked him why he went out of his way to meet me. After all, I was 3 hours late. He said I was depending on him and he couldn't let me down. He lived and practiced the Golden Rule. He added, "and the only reason I have a job is people like you who expect extraordinary service, otherwise there are lots of other ways to get a ride. All of them would be a lot cheaper." This was truly an unforgettable Moment of Magic. He earned and got a lavish tip.

Recently, I experienced a moment of misery. My associate invited me to dinner at quite possibly the most famous pizzeria in Southwest, Michigan. This place is a little quirky by only offering one size and very limited toppings, but I can deal with that. You can't knock success and after 50 years and five locations, my hats are off to them. My friend is a regular, we were greeted warmly, and our waitress Julie took our order.

We ordered two 12" pizzas and some beverages. I ordered coffee with cream. She brought our beverages and instead of cream, I got a packet of dry coffee whitener. I hate coffee whitener. I have been known to pack my own half & half in my luggage for road trips. I very politely mentioned to my server that I would prefer milk or half & half. She informed me that they didn't serve cream, half & half or milk with coffee. Why not? She said, "It was against health department regulations." I told her that I served in an advisory capacity while on the Michigan Restaurant Association Board of Directors when the entire state health code was rewritten and was absolutely sure that their was no law or regulation that remotely resembled what she was talking about. She then said that it was restaurant policy. I gave her my best toothpaste ad smile and asked her to go to the walk in and pour an ounce in a cup and bring it to me. She told me that there weren't any liquid dairy products in the restaurant. I asked her to ask the bartender for a little. I told her that they probably sold Kahlua & Cream cocktails and I would really appreciate it. She told me no and if I wanted to ask the bartender, go right ahead, but he would refuse me also.

I was barely maintaining control, but got up and approached the bar. I was sure Pat would oblige my simple request. I almost groveled. I said please two times. He looked right in the eye and said, "I'm sorry. I can't do that, company policy." I then asked him if I could buy a Kahlua & Cream and hold the Kahlua. Again, I was refused. I told him that I thought the experience was incredible and mentioned to him that I would be sure to note all of the conversations and possibly include them in an article I was preparing to write. He was unimpressed, and amused. I was livid, returned to my booth to sulk and choke down the pizza with cold black coffee.

My partner was embarrassed and tried to intercede in my behalf, asking for the owner. He wasn't there. The more I thought about it the more I relived that Moment of Misery.

When the transaction is over every customer subconsciously thinks and says one of three things:

  1. Something Good
  2. Something Bad
  3. Nothing at all

What could this place have done to Redeem the experience? Broke the stupid, callous, uncaring, ignorant company policy, and fetched me an ounce of cream? I gave Julie and Pat multiple opportunities, and chances to say yes. I don't blame them. They are just like our employees who turn off our customers with company policy. I blame the person who pays them and trains them to jerk customers around for no good reason.

How do you train your staff to serve your guests? How do control all of your Moments of Truth? Are they really empowered and encouraged to use common sense and do the right thing even if it costs you a dime? How do you reward them for delivering Knock Your Socks off Service?

We are in a high touch, people to people business. It's so easy to say yes but policy gets in the way every time. I urge you to examine every policy you have and ditch all of them that could turn away customers for life. We think that our pizza makes us different from our competition. Our customers think different. They are hungry for Moments of Magic.


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