Occasionally I pick up a little Indian food in Grand Central Station on the way home from work. These are always semi-rushed encounters of picking two veg entrees as part of a platter over rice (mysteriously, with a bit of iceberg lettuce on the side) crammed into a plastic takeout container.
The last time I was there I ordered Chana Masala (chickpeas in a tomato sauce) and Dal (yellow lentils). As the owner was packing up my order at the register, he asked what had happened with my Dal. While I had a nice portion of Chana, the Dal was a watery, soupy thing with barely a spoonful of lentils. The owner gave my plate back to the server, haranguing him to give me a decent serving of Dal. The guy gave me a bit more, still mostly too-thin broth, and it took one more exchange between the server and the owner before a decent pile of lentils ended up on my plate.
What the owner knows, but the server forgets, is where the transaction starts and ends. To the server, I’m just another guy placing an order, one in a long line of people he’ll serve in a day. The transaction starts when I make my order, and it ends when I shift down the line to pay.
What the owner realizes is that the transaction starts way before a customer arrive, beginning at the moment when she decides to pick this place out of the 50-odd places where she could grab a bite in Grand Central. In this transaction, he’s up against the Shake Shack and Two Boots Pizza and Magnolia Bakery. He’s also up against Golden Krust (Jamaican patties, right by the train track), Zaro’s Bakery, Chirping Chicken (best roast chicken in NY), and about 30 other places.
Winning the battle against all of that noise is really hard. Which means that the moment the customer shows up is the big win. The hard work has been done and now we have a one-to-one interaction where the only choice we have is to delight that customer – in this case with an extra five cents worth of Dal.
How often is our customer standing right there, smile on her face and money in her hand, saying “delight me”….and we miss?
We miss because we forget that whenever we have the choice between shouting louder to get more people to stop and delighting the people who are standing there in front of us, we must choose, every time, to delight.