Steven Tingle

December 12th, 2012

My Way

Topics: Customer Service

MyWayTo hear my Dad tell it he was on a date. It was the mid 40’s. It was Manhattan. It was dark. I imagine him in a trench coat and fedora, a Lucky between his fingers, a dame on his arm. Not just any dame, “a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window”. “A shiny girl, hardboiled and loaded with sin”. With Raymond Chandler’s help I’ll tell the story. It was the mid 40’s, it was Manhattan, it was dark.
The theatre district was busy – hacks and skirts, grifters and saps, coppers and hoods. My dad knew the city better than the back of his hand so he grabbed hers and took a shortcut down an alley. It was a dinner and a show date, in reverse. The show was over, now they were hungry, rushing, taking shortcuts.

The alley was deserted except for a parked car, luxury model, the kind that moved “away from the curb and around the corner with as much noise as a bill makes in a wallet”. Dad and the dame stayed on the sidewalk, moving fast, more interested in each other than where their feet were landing. Down the alley a door opened. Three goons walked out, “not young, not handsome, but durable”. They crossed the sidewalk, stood by the car. Dad and the dame didn’t notice, kept moving. A moment later a smaller man appeared through the doorway, head down, moving fast, directly ahead of them. They didn’t see him until it was too late. Stars aligned, Hell froze – they collided. The smaller man stumbled but quickly regained his balance. The goons turned around, started to make a move,but the smaller man didn’t need them, he launched, pushed both hands into my dad’s chest. Dad was off balance, he went down. He was six-three but skinny back then. When he was in his Navy whites his buddies used to say, “Freddo, you could get a job as a white line on a highway.”

All six-three of Freddo was on the sidewalk. He sat up on his elbows, still stunned. Looking up he saw the goons, arms crossed, serious. He noticed their eyes “cloudy and gray like freezing water.” He saw the dame, wide eyed, shocked, excited. She wasn’t looking at him, she was boring a hole in the smaller man, her smile “as stiff as a frozen fish”. He followed her gaze wanting to see who had pushed him, calculate a response. The smaller man was looking directly at him, his eyes “not quite cruel and a million miles from kind”. He was unfazed, casually lighting a cigarette. “Watch where you’re walking pal.” Then he and the goons entered the car and disappeared down the alley.

Now the details of this story may have shifted over the years and the goons may have gotten bigger and the dame blonder with each telling but one fact remains: from that day until the day he died my dad hated Frank Sinatra.

Us humans are a grudge holding lot. We carry bitterness on the tip of our tongue, ready to spew it on anyone who will listen. Our egos are fragile and while we can forgive most things – cold food, dirty bathrooms, long waits, high prices – when subjected to a surly waiter or rude manager we will take that shit to our grave. Telling the angels in heaven how if even reincarnated we would never eat at “that place” again.

The facts stand by this. Last year’s Customer Experience Impact Report showed that 82% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company due to a bad customer service experience. And 79% of those told others about it. But the most interesting statistic is that 85% of consumers said they were willing to pay more in order to ensure a superior customer experience. Not more for new paint, better banquets, heavier flat wear, “localer” food – they’re willing to pay more for BETTER SERVICE. Yet day after day restaurants spend a small fortune on interior design, marketing, and research but pay most of their “customer service” staff the lowest wage allowed by law. I don’t care if you spent 40 thousand on the Italian marble bar I want a hostess who can tell me what’s good tonight not what time cheerleading practice is tomorrow.

A restaurant’s investment in recruitment, continual training, mutual respect, employee empowerment and teaching the difference between confidence and cockiness pays dividends. Far exceeding the money saved by handing someone an employee handbook and saying “shadow Travis for a few days, he’ll show you the ropes.” It’s worth the time, it’s worth the money. Good service is not always remembered, but bad service is never forgotten and as studies show rarely forgiven.

Freddo never forgave Frank Sinatra. Some sixty years after the incident we were in Manhattan, enjoying “the first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar”. My dad refused to wear a hearing aid so I was fairly certain he couldn’t hear “My Way” playing softly in the background. We sat silently for a minute, nursing our drinks. Then I saw something in his eyes. He put his glass down and aimed his good ear toward the ceiling, listening carefully. A moment later, his suspicions confirmed, he rolled his eyes and murmured, “Jerk.”

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2020 Steven Tingle