All I Really Need to Know About Customer Service I Learned at a Dinner Party

My husband and I recently arrived at a wedding, but couldn't find it. The GPS said we'd arrived and the invitation said we'd arrived, but we were standing on a dilapidated, industrial waterfront dock with no wedding in sight.

After walking through rundown boats and barnacle-encrusted equipment, we came to an old ferry. We decided to got inside and see if we could find a wedding.

In no time we heard music deep in the bowels of the ship, but no signs of people. We walked through empty dressing rooms, parlors, and storage areas. The music grew as we reached the galley. We found a door and planned to creep in unnoticed. Wait staff thankfully steered us to another entrance, as we were ready to make a grand entrance next to the bride and groom.

What does this story have to do with customers and clients? As we were searching for the wedding, I kept thinking, "This reminds me of being lost in a big box store, searching for a product or an employee."

Just a couple simple steps could have changed the experience from irritating to inviting.

You Already Know the Answer

You're probably familiar with the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. But there should be a book called All I Really Need to Know About Customer Service I Learned at a Dinner Party.

Taking care of your customers is identical to taking care of dinner guests.

Welcome them. When we're expecting friends we pull it together—clean the house, prepare food they like, and even put on a clear shirt. When they show up at the door, we greet them with a genuine smile and welcome them in. It's not different with customers. Our attitude and welcoming atmosphere is the start of a positive experience.

Take care of their needs. When our friends are inside, we take care of them, making sure they want for nothing. We work to ensure they have a great experience and if anything goes wrong, we immediately jump in to make it right.

Thank them for coming and invite them back. When the party is over, we don't let our guests find their way out while we clean up. We thank them for coming and invite them back. And if the event was fun, we're both looking forward to a repeat performance.

I'd like to say I came up with "treating customers like guests" myself, but it’s a concept that’s been around a long time. In fact, there's a humorous training video The Guest where employees not only learn how to see their customers as guests, but also see how this leads to improved customer loyalty and profitability.

I'm looking forward to all companies embracing the treatment of clientele like guests. I can see a day when a wedding planner will say, "We should make this experience as nice as the one we had at the box store."

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.