(My usual caveat: This is not a customer service story. It is a relationship-building-encounter-missed-opportunity story.  Much more interesting.  Bad customer service stories have become boring.)

I had just arrived in San Antonio the evening before a speech, flying back to the states from overseas. I walked down the beautiful San Antonio Riverwalk and found a restaurant for dinner. The waiter brought the obligatory bowl of salsa and basket of chips.

“Is it possible to get a few corn tortillas instead of the chips?” I asked. “I don’t want to eat anything fried, but I’d love to have something to eat with the salsa.”  My body clock was still wound 8 time zones ahead, and I could sense that any food that had been fried in oil would cause an immediate and significant increase in the effects of jet lag.

“Hmmm,” the waiter said, pondering his options.  “I have to ask the cooks for the tortillas, and I’ll probably have to charge you for them.”

“Do what you can,” I answered.

A few minutes later he brought me two soft corn tortillas, and asked, “Have you decided what you like to order?”

What a missed opportunity.

I told him something very specific about me – that I didn’t want to eat fried food.  This was a gift I handed to him on a silver platter – a tip-laden, relationship-building-encounter-possibility, wrapped-with-a-bow present that he completely missed.

The fact that I didn’t want to eat fried food represented 1% of 1% of 1% of the totality of Steve Yastrow.  It was a small detail … but an important detail.

What if the interaction had gone like this:

“Is it possible to get a few corn tortillas instead of the chips? I don’t want to eat anything fried, but I’d love to have something to eat with the salsa.”

“You don’t want to eat fried foods?  I’ll check if I can get any tortillas for you.  Would you like me look at the menu you with you so we can find choices that aren’t fried for an appetizer and your entrée?”

It’s a world of difference.

As I wrote above, don’t confuse this with a story about customer service.  That’s so 2005.  This is a story about how easy it is to show a customer you understand some unique detail about them, and then to honor that unique detail, with very little effort.  The result if you do this?  By focusing on a little detail (a “spice” as we refer to them at Yastrow & Company) your customer thinks, “Wow. They understand me.”

We share 99.5% of our DNA with all of the other 7 billion human beings on earth.  What makes us special are the fine details that exist in the last ½%.   In cooking, the spices that make up the smallest portion of the volume of a dish add the most to the dish’s flavor and personality.  It is the same with people.

So, don’t make the mistake my waiter made.  If a customer lets you in on a secret detail of his or her life, look at it as a gift, not an inconvenient challenge to your corporate policies.


  • Nerio Vakil
    Aug 18, 2009 - 15:21 pm

    Excellent post, Steve. Specially like your last sentence……….. I hate the word “Policy”, presumingly derived from “Police” which means I don’t trust you!!!

  • Christine Angulo
    Jun 22, 2010 - 21:35 pm

    It’s true, we should all be more creative in our jobs and in our daily life because it will be positive for both the person we are interacting with and ourselves. Some things really aren’t a bother but we make them a bother instead of going with the flow and being positive.

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