Customer Service Is a Mindset

Posted on June 2, 2016 by Robert Ringer


Some years ago, I was having lunch with a business associate at a fine restaurant. The food was superb, but when you pay eighty bucks for lunch for two people, you also expect great service. When the waitress brought our appetizers, I asked her to please give me some cracked pepper on my salad. Though she was pleasant, she responded with, “The cracked pepper is on the table.”

Being the peaceful, gentle soul I am, I let it go at that. But what I really felt like saying to her was, “What I meant was that I wanted you to put some cracked pepper on my salad. I don’t like to work for my food, especially when I’m paying $80 for it.”

About a month later, I checked into a fairly high-priced hotel in Los Angeles. Because I’m an ex-artillery guy, wherever I go I tend to set things up as though I were going to be there for an indefinite period of time. And when it comes to hotels, the first thing I do is call housekeeping and read off my standard list of requests.

One of those standards is two extra boxes of Kleenex. Being an efficiency aficionado, I always put one box on the nightstand next to my bed and another box on the desk. Why walk into the bathroom every time I want to blow my nose? Okay, so I’m strange. But so was Howard Hughes. (Hmmm … maybe not such a good example.)

No matter how much traveling you do, every trip brings with it one or more surprises that you’ve never had to deal with before. And so it was that when I called housekeeping and related my list of requests to the lady on the other end of the line. She nearly took my breath away when she snapped, “I can only give you one extra box of Kleenex.”

Out of morbid fascination, I asked her why. She explained that it was simply the hotel’s policy. She added, however, that after I used up the extra box of Kleenex, she would be happy to have another box delivered to my room to replace it. How kind of her. It was beginning to feel like a Saturday Night Live skit.

In truth, however, her absurd statements were a result of a contagious employee disease known as “Make Up the Policy as You Go Along.” Trust me, there is no hotel in the world with has a policy that states: “If a guest asks for two extra boxes of Kleenex, tell him he can only have one at a time.”

I didn’t want to make Ms. Housekeeper’s mental condition any more painful than it apparently was, so I simply said to her, “Not a problem. Just put your supervisor on the line and I’ll place the order with her.” Remarkably, she immediately opted to change her One-Extra-Box-of-Kleenex-Per-Guest policy and leave her supervisor out of our fascinating discussion.

“Offering” to speak with a supervisor about some petty issue is something that is very easy to do and that produces quick results. Just make certain that in your business, a customer never finds that to be necessary. I seem to have a vague memory of an old business rule about the customer always being right … oh, and another one about going the extra mile.

Kind of remarkable how so many of the old maxims never go out of style.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

38 responses to “Customer Service Is a Mindset”

  1. SteveR says:

    I like the adage about there being little traffic on the extra mile. Sometimes a company will lose a customer over the most petty requests; requests that would be readily handled if the company knew it would cause loss of a customer.
    I guess that is a lesson we as business owners should emphasize to our employees – if it makes a happy customer, and costs little, do it immediately.

  2. Mike Miller says:

    I love your observations on customer service. It reminds me of one of Wayne Dyer's bits of advice for people in the service industry: "Don't be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd."

    • Jim Hallett says:

      One of many great pearls of wisdom from the great Wayne Dyer!

      • Richard Lee Van DV says:

        Yes, Wayne Dyer IS one of the Greats among what were the "newer" writers in my day. What he wrote could and can be APPLIED.

  3. John Zielasko says:

    oh my goodness! I hope I never make so much money that I can't grind my own pepper! How far does this extend? Does your list of extend to cutting the crust off the bread? I can imagine what you require when you go to the restroom. You're just too precious for me Robert, write a better article about customer service being a mindset. I think an American icon can do better.

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      Pretty harsh there, John. Pretty harsh. I'll decline to comment, but thanks for letting me know how my thoughts struck you.

      • Shelley Ross says:

        I get it. White table service equals white glove service and this waitress lacks basic skills in performance! Part of the ambiance one pays for in a pricey restaurant is the level of service one receives. Spot on Robert!

      • Billy Jo Bob says:

        Same here! You must be a pampered duck to get upset over the horror of running out of kleenex. Sorry RJR. I just thought there was more to you than that.

    • Dave says:

      It has nothing to do with the labor of grinding your own pepper. When I'm eating, I do not want to touch a pepper grinder that was handled by 500 other people. I would have eaten without pepper and left no tip and never returned to that restaurant – after letting the manager know why. Robert is 100% correct that this is terrible customer service. The waitress should be fired. I should also say that I would never do business with a person like you.

      • Nellie McConnell says:

        Mr. Ringer. Thank you on your article on Trump. You and I are on same page with Trump's agenda ant the GOP (NEVER TRUMP). OBAMA CAMPAIGNING FOR HILLARY IS A GOOD LAUGH. WORSE THAN BILL!
        Service in restutants is very important. I managed a salad Dep. in big resturant. I was cleaning tables and my boss wanted to know WHY?! That was the only way to find jot what was being dumped in garbage. After every meal every salt and pepper were washed, same with sugar. All bottles tops washed and wiped with sanitary cloth. You are right, dont3know who handles these bottles. They can be wiped with sanitary cloth after each guest leaves. Thank you.

    • Russell W. Behne says:

      Argumentum ad Hominum is proof that Zielasco has no rational argument to offer.

      • Russell W. Behne says:

        Also, I hope everyone eventually makes enough money that they can afford to have someone else grind their pepper.

    • Sam says:

      Service is how the wait staff earns their tips. I would not tip this waitress- she is taking a job that someone more eager should be doing. I tip well- for good service, because I think that waitresses and pizza delivery men don't make enough money, and lawyers and politicians make too much. I can't do anything about the lawyers and politicians, but I can about the other two. But they must earn it with good service.

  4. You couldn't put your own pepper on? Only you knew how much you wanted.
    I can see the point of the hotel woman RE "Kleenex" considering some kinds of guests like to steal towels and soap. But, regarding "going the extra mile", doing that alway served me VERY well when I did my money-making advertiser half the year in Michigan, spending the winters then in Mexico (back when it was safe and cheap) or the Philippines. I did that, among other things, for ten years while my mother was ill and dying. I gave better service, undercut would-be competitor's prices, and made a better product. So, by going the extra mile, I became the ONLY advertiser of that type in the area. And, as an example of "going the extra mile", one regular advertiser owned a flower shop, and if she was busy, there were times when I would make a delivery for her, thereby "going the extra mile". And, I got customers talking so I could know what they like to go on and on and sometimes on about. So every time I called for the next issue, I'd press the talk button to get them talking about their favorite subject. When they finished spilling, it was a snap to make the sale. So yes, "going the extra mile" does work. Prior to that period of my life, when touring BASED ON SOMETHING I READ IN A RINGER BOOK, "Be the expert from afar", I was much more successful than if I hung around my home area/base trying to make a living. Yes, back then in the 70s, the Ringer Book(s) really helped me to learn how to do business. But I was never bothered by "small things" like "pepper me, please" or extra Kleenex. LOL

    • Dave says:

      The small things are everything and if you don't understand that you were not nearly as successful as you could have been. There was an extremely successful tire company here in the Northwest (Les Swabb Tires). I and my wife and son and all my brothers and sisters bought our tires there. They had many locations with about a dozen car bays each and all were full almost all the time when I drove past. About 10 years ago, I stopped because my battery was going dead and bought a new battery there. (I had bought several over the years). For the first time ever, they charged me $10 to install it. I protested to the manager but he said it was the new policy. I have never been back since. My wife and son also stopped and my 7 brothers and sisters stopped buying their tires there. This was all because of a measly $10. I later found out that Les Swabb had died and his daughter brought in a consultant to maximize profits. This was 10 years ago. I drove by a location yesterday and there was only one car in the 12 bays. Several other locations have closed. That is why you need to care about the "small things"!

  5. Paul Anthony says:

    For $80 you had a right to expect better than average food and surroundings, but service? It is unlikely the wait staff was paid any better in that restaurant than in one that charged half as much. Sorry, but your expectations were misguided.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      NOT TRUE, Paul, as customers tip based on the total of the bill, so those who work in higher-priced places do earn larger tips, assuming they have not driven away all the business where their "entitlement" attitude! Whoever did the hiring should have clued them in as to the type of clientele they would be serving and the higher expectations that the high prices command. Nevertheless, companies all over talk a good game about customer service, but it is a consistently-dying commodity, as FEW deliver.

  6. Joan Lewis says:

    I have a beautiful calendar in my hands. It states Quality- Cleanliness-Service-is our moto This is back in the 30's or 40's. The phone number was 173 (and it was party line) we had to speak to in Sussex , N.J. This is an example of how far our country has fallen., The calendar was from my Dad to the consumer. He had little education, built great business through hard work. He and my Mother instilled the values missing today in young people. The love God and our Country. Also the pride to be productive, notbe afraid hard work. He
    gave opportunities to workers to progress. I am writing this as hisvalues gave me the ability to leave a abusive husband1960. I had no education except high school, which by the way was far better than some the college lacking decent values.I managed to to go out in the world, 3 children ages 3,7,11. The only thing I could do was type and that not very well,However by working nights as a waitress, managed to keep it together/., no help from their father.Slowly I progressed from job to job and ended up in a managing position in an Independent Agency
    Insurance Office. I quit working waitress and could send time with my children.I wish I could write this story since I grew up with 2 brothers and 1 sister ,my Dad had a wolnderful sense of humor which rubbed off on all of us. I wish I had time to tell you how my Dad out smarted the rules then from the Milk Board Comm. some of what
    we have today.I don't have time since I am 84 and taking care of mydaughter who has been destroyed by the
    harmaceutical Co.
    Pharmaceuical t

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      I admire you, Joan. You're a great mother.

    • sam239 says:

      As a 30 year old I really want to talk with people like you to record what you've known and seen, for the future generations. Really admire you as well

    • Richard Lee Van DV says:

      Your love and dedication is admirable indeed. I hope your children were grateful as adults. So many times or too many times, even after all that children are or can be ungrateful.

  7. John E. Gabor says:

    Any grunt who ever needed a grid square taken out knows a redleg deserves extra Kleenex and a few twists of the pepper mill.

  8. Davis Kizito says:

    An Extra Mile Is True Added Value At NO extra cost, That Is Care And True Service!

  9. Jim Hallett says:

    Steve, you are so right, and I have pointed out this axiom to many business owners who have silly "policies" (usually based on laziness, or at least short-sightedness). There was a local Tim Horton's coffee shop owner who refused to give a free refill on a cup of coffee (though it is NOT Tim Horton's corporate policy), despite the fact she must throw away every pot of coffee after 18 minutes to keep it fresh. She has lost my business the past 6 years when she made her stupid, short-sighted "policy", and now other coffee shops (including another Tim Horton's) get my business. She was a perfect example of penny-wise and pound foolish. She saved a few pennies (perhaps) that day by not refilling my coffee, but lost ALL the business I would have given her these past 6 years (several times per week!). I will not shed a tear when her "policy" causes her to close her shop!!

  10. Paul says:

    When I ran a restaurant, people would ask for extra dressing on their salads. I instructed my servers to give them the regular amount & then put the extra in a cup, on the side. Simple.

  11. George says:

    Funny timing of this article about customer service … I have emailed twice (5/26 and 5/27) and have yet to receive a response.

    It may have been a menial request, but a response would have been appreciated.

  12. Julie says:

    We ran a mom and pop business from 1972 to 2005 when a street widening project took our building. We won over many customers by doing just that, doing what they requested. We won the Small Business Administrations top small business award in our region in 1997 for exemplary customer service. Little things pay off big in the long run.
    The 'no grind-a the pepper' waitress suffered on her tip I am sure. Customer service pays!

  13. Robby Bonfire says:

    As regards every trip bringing "one or more surprises you have never had to deal with before," the nasty surprise I got from Travelodge in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, in Fall, 2014, put them on my "EX" list for all-time…

    Upon checking in, I paid their refundable "deposit fee," of $50 in American currency. The next morning they refunded it to me in Canadian dollars. I told the desk clerk I paid them in American currency and wanted my refund in American currency, or compensation in Canadian currency for the 12 per cent hit I was taking, given the exchange rate at that time.

    They adamantly refused to accommodate my request, stating that is their "policy," and that, to them, there is no difference in the value between an American dollar and a Canadian Dollar – an off the wall economics lesson even a flaming socialist would be hard-pressed to proffer with a straight face. So that, for the five+ bucks they beat me out of, they lost a customer, and any word of mouth good will that might have come about as a result of my stay there.

    I will also say that if you want the most anti-septic décor and environment on the planet for a hotel stay, Travelodge is your hotel chain of choice.

  14. Francis Valerian says:

    Interesting insights and responses. Doing simple/little things in an extraordinary manner makes a big difference. Never violate or underestimate anything, you never can tell where next big pay-cheque will come from.

  15. Kelly says:

    Robert, I agree – that while KleenexGate or The Pepper Incident might appear silly – they are the difference between service and hospitality. Service is black and white while hospitality is color.

    I recently went to the local Seattle neighborhood busy Pizza slice bar with a large group. At this pizza shop, the way to order is up at the counter rather than ordering at your table. After finishing our slices and beer, I walked up to the counter with a friend and an empty beer glass to order a 2nd round for the group.
    As the cashier handed me the receipt to sign and tip, I set down my empty beer glass on the counter. At that exact moment, the cashier said, “Oh the bussing station is over there,” pointing across the room to signal he couldn’t be bothered to take care of my empty glass even though he was steps away from the kitchen. My friend and I scoffed as we thought he couldn’t be serious… but he was.

    Needless to say, we didn’t tip, their Yelp rating was impacted, and we won’t be back. Some might say silly, but I say Bad Service.

    • Nellie McConnell says:

      I am not sure if it's today's people working in whatever. They either not trained or don't care. My grandson manages a restaurant, he ask me "HOW DO YOU FIND GOOD HELP?". Years ago 1 out of 10, now! Maybe 1 out of a 100. Kids don't learn to work at home.

  16. JR Kruckmeyer says:

    Like Robert, I like my hotel room just so during my stay. First step: safety-pin the curtains together so that light doesn't pour through the crack. Second step: stand on a chair and cover the green dot on the smoke-alarm. I have to have total darkness to fall asleep. Inevitably, the Kleenex box ends up on my bed, albeit for a less noble purpose. I also rob the maid's pushcart in the hall for several pens and other sundries, and if caught, immediately hand her two dollars for my crime. In Vegas, there are cameras in the hallways so be careful._I know its crass, but I stole a towel from the Hooters Hotel there recently, because it was just so damn fluffy. The towel was so lovingly laundered compared, to mine at home that are scorched by my dryer's settings: Bake Broil and Fried. I don't know HOW they dry their towels there, but they sure get it right.. On a side note: that hotel has an actual Hooters restaurant which is open 24/7, and I had the good fortune to stumble in there at 3am and meet the most attractive waitress, Nicole age 23, who told me she is making $1,000 a day working two jobs, the other as a cabana waitress at the pool. At her tender age she is already enjoying a metallic brown Audi A7. a car that's almost as attractive as her. It felt great to socialize with her while eating wings at 3am before heading to the airport.

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    That state came from the company-commissioned evaluation done by Forrester Research. Right after interviewing 4 Microsoft clients which have started migrations through Windows seven to Home windows 10, Forrester created a theoretical composite business — 1 with twenty four, 000 Home windows devices, along with a large number of cellular workers amongst its twenty, 000 workers — it then utilized to model expenses of moving out Home windows 10 as well as savings created after the reality.

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