The Gentle Art Of Service

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True story about service:

When I’m on the road and presenting at events, I often dine alone – grabbing a quick lunch or breakfast (something healthy) that will tide me over. Unlike other travelers, I tend to eat much healthier when I’m on the road (energy much be high!). Recently, I was at a mid-level family dining restaurant and ordered a standard Chicken Caesar Salad (it’s my default/sure thing). The waitress asked me if I wanted some kind of bread (I could not make out what she saying over the music) or a soup. I said, I’d just like some bread with the salad. A few minutes later, a busboy arrives with my salad and this very intricate bread/melted/cheese/something appetizer and says, "you must be hungry!" I let him know that I must have made a mistake and that all I wanted was a little bread on the side of my salad. "No problem," he says after apologizing (even though this was clearly my fault) and returns with some bread. My iPad is on the table, I’m neck deep in emails, etc… when the waitress comes by and asks what happened. I explain to her the story, she apologizes, I apologize and I put my head back down into the work. Two minutes later, the manager comes over and asks me if there was a problem with my bread appetizer. I explain to him the story, he apologizes, I apologize and I put my head back down into the work. A couple of minutes later, the waitress comes back to apologize that the manager came over all well. I flip my iPad cover over, stash it back in my briefcase, quickly work through lunch and leave.

Over-service can be a huge disservice.

Many years ago, I was dining at a fancy restaurant with a friend who was a regular at this place. After dinner, we went out for a stroll to walk off the hearty meal. He asked me what I thought of the restaurant. I commented, that it was amazing to me that every time I went to drink some water, it was as if my glass was magically refilled without my knowledge. My friend, the restaurateur, responded: "the best service is when the service is almost invisible. The best service is when all of your needs are met and you don’t even have to mention what those needs are."

We are all in the business of service.

As a Digital Marketing agency, this is primary function we serve at Twist Image: to serve our clients needs. Beyond that, this Blog acts as a service to the readers and people who comment. My Twitter acts as a service to those who are interested in connecting to me. Everything you do is a service too. Over-service can be a disservice and the best results come from those who can balance the unique and personal needs of the people they are connected with. Understanding that pulse and flow of what the needs are and how to meet them is not always something that can be systemized. Servicing the people you are connected to is a very gentle and intricate art that requires both practice and being able to read a situation better than your peers and competitors. There are many instances that resemble my Chicken Caser scenario: sometimes when you think you’re doing the right thing and being kind, it’s really just exacerbating a situation. This type of prodding often happens in Social Media spaces as well, where individuals feel the need to either get the last word in, be a gadfly or persist that their side is the one that must be heard loudest.

Service is key to being successful, but the true success comes in understanding how to do it in a way that brings people closer to your brand… and not further away. 


  1. “Servicing the people you are connected to is a very gentle and intricate art that requires both practice and being able to read a situation better than your peers and competitors.”
    This business leadership wisdom is often overlooked because we trying too hard to win. Many times, less is more. But, delivering on that promise consistently and understanding the subtleties guiding your decisions — that’s hard. It takes years of experience (maybe even decades).
    That’s why it’s more art than science.

  2. In the new world of the Fourth Revolution you can also choose to use the service that suits you best. I don’t follow Mitch on tweeter, I follow the blog. Or, I follow my friend’s Facebook and not his blog. That’s a huge difference with the physical world. And this also means that you need to multiply your communication channels to reach your audience in the way THEY want to be reached!

  3. This can work the other way as well when a client may expect more from the relationship. They can make unrealistic demands of our time or fail to grasp that certain things – no matter how much money is invested – cannot work without their participation.
    It is possible the restaurant was simply trying to right the wrong but in this specific case each person involved was unaware of others’ roles in the process. In a larger sense, this can lead to portions of a project being done several times while other items are missed.
    We have all experienced bad service yet the person in the store that climbs all over us before we can breathe will often cause us to walk out even if they have the solution. Customer service begins inside an organization, not on a channel.

  4. Mitch, you know I read this over and over and over. You’ve described so many elements of service here, right to my wheelhouse 🙂
    I wholeheartedly agree that the best service is invisible. But there’s a style nuance that goes along with it. Your first description sounds a bit like a diner, but the invisible service comes along with a bit higher a check average. It doesn’t have to be this way, but it generally is.
    Funny how easy it is sometimes to be remarkable in providing unexpected service at any level of any business.

  5. Tony, I totally agree with you. It does take years of experience to truly understand how your level of service impacts your business.
    Mitch, I’ve found myself in similar situations, not only in restaurants, but in dealing with other types of businesses as well. They overwhelm me with constant emails or phone calls about how they can help me by using their service, but quite often they fail to ask me what my needs are. Usually to the point where I unsubscribe or have to tell them to remove my phone number. (sighs)
    Over service can be a total turn-off.

  6. Sandy, thanks so much for the additional insights (and your kind acknowledgment)!
    As Mitch described the invisibility of great service, I immediately thought of The Ritz-Carlton. On the rare opportunities when I’ve stayed there, their outstanding service delivery always impresses me.
    But, it isn’t over-the-top / always-in-your-face. It’s understated, and you know it’s always there.

  7. It wasn’t a diner. I made it clear it was a mid-level family dining restaurant. Not high-end… and not a diner (and clearly the type of organization that does/should know better).

  8. Heh! Generally, at a good diner, the mistake (when it happens) is quickly corrected and the flow of service and business goes ahead. Everyone knows his job. Duties and responsibilities are clearly defined. This avoids duplication of effort and everyone stays out of everyone’s way.
    It’s those mid-market restaurants that seem to tend to have a lot of turnover and poorly trained managers who, frustrated with their jobs, will either micro-manage or be completely absent.
    You can even get a Caesar salad w/ chicken at diners these days along with a good helping of “yes, just leave me alone, thank you very much.” They’re also really good at making sure your water glass is refilled along with the iced tea, coffee, or soda.
    Hmm, a lot of good lessons can be learned at the local diner.

  9. Mitch its refreshing to hear any fellow agency owner even speak about service. I am President and Founding Partner of Simon Pure Marketing Inc. I built my entire career on service. My theory, there will always be someone smarter or more creative trying to woo my clients. But if I can keep them happy, make their lives easier, and essentially let them leave the office at 5pm without wondering if I am doing what I am supposed to do then they will have no reason to leave. When I started Simon Pure Marketing I knew our service had to be the best of the best. So, I offered and still offer a guarantee and its quite simple. If a client isn’t happy with the service they are receiving we credit them back 100% of client management fees. Three years in and not a single refund issued……now why don’t more agencies stand behind their service like this?

  10. “Service is key to being successful, but the true success comes in understanding how to do it in a way that brings people closer to your brand…and not farther away” ~ A lot of people could use the principle behind and within this phrase. I personally think it’s better to keep and serve a few loyal clients than have a hundred and compromise the service they deserve and need. With the simple fact that it’s a balance game that if you can’t keep up with what you promise to deliver, chances are you will lose more than you first thought you could.

  11. Two stories of unbelievable customer service.
    Couple of weeks ago I took four bags of books down to Goodwill. The lady there looked at my donation and said “We’re only taking children’s books and cookbooks.” Then she sighed (to the other assistant behind the counter) and said put them over there. I asked if she had a box so I could keep my recycling bags. Then she seemed really annoyed, as if I’d really gone too far, and said “Well I can only give you one, so you’ll have to take the rest of your books home.”
    All this — and I wasn’t even buying anything — just trying to make a donation.
    The next day I made a trip to Home Depot. (Now believe me — I have some real Home Depot stories!) Something was having quite a feast on the leaves of some plants that were just coming up in the garden. I found an assistant in the garden dept., and showed him the leaf I’d brought along. “Give me the leaf,” he said, “I’ll test this. Here’s my cell # — call me later and I’ll tell you what’s happening.”
    Wow. Two experiences in one weekend that taught me a great deal about customer service.

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