small business customer serviceTwo deliveries, one pickup, no one in the store. That was my cue to get my head down and start working. The faster I could get these delivery orders done, the faster I could get out the door with them, and the faster I’d be getting (and subsequently spending) my tip. My boss, Alex, was outside on a smoke break and I was holding down the fort. Two customers walk in and step up to the counter.

“Hey guys, welcome! I’ll be with you in just a second!”

Over the years, I had become an expert at timing smoke breaks. Alex was usually out between 5 and 6 minutes. It had been about five minutes plus change. He would be back any second to help the hungry patrons. I had delivering to do.

Sure enough, 20 seconds later Alex tossed his cigarette butt across the parking lot and came back in. He helped the couple and I was on my way out the door. He grabs my arm and pulls me in the kitchen.

“GRINGO! Why you didn’t help those people?” he beseeched.

“I had a delivery…”

“CUSTOMERS FIRST, GRINGO!” He interrupted.

I left bewildered. The guy who I was about to deliver a pizza to is as much a customer than this couple who just came in. I am putting customers first. The customers who called in should get preferential treatment, right?

Personal Attention Pays Dividends

This was one of my earliest lessons in customer service. I got it as a bull-headed 18 year old and it came from the same guy who brought me my first lesson in efficiency. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was being incentivized to give poorer customer service to people in-store. 90 percent of my tips (and most of my income) came from deliveries. As a result, I would give every delivery customer incredible service.

I’d get there fast and I have the speeding tickets to prove it. Once there, I learned customers names, met their families, paid attention to what they were watching on TV, even made note of their favorite sports teams. Not joking, I would track ESPN for all popular sports teams in the midwest so I could make conversation with regulars any time I brought them a delivery.

“Hey Dave, how’s it going? Did you see Reggie Wayne was taken off IR? Should help us out against the Jags next week! Anyway, here’s your pizza!”

My customers loved me and my tips showed it. All this attention to detail was paying off big. I’m the best at this, right?

Serving What’s in Front of You

What I didn’t realize is that often times, my hustle to get myself out of the door could make customers in-store feel neglected. I would ignore the people right in front of me because someone miles away wanted a pizza and I would be there to save the day, dammit!

I didn't realize it at the time, but I was trying to be the worst superhero ever.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was trying to be the worst superhero ever.

If I would have taken the 5 minutes I needed to serve what was in front of me first, my delivery customers wouldn’t have noticed. When I took that 5 minutes to get a delivery out the door, however, my customers in the store DEFINITELY noticed when I asked them to wait so I could finish a delivery order.

Key Takeaway For Today: Customer Service is About More Than Serving Customers

Great customer service is the backbone of great small businesses, and despite what I thought when I was in high school, it isn’t JUST about treating customers well. Great customer service is about making sure that every person patronizing your business feels as welcome as the last.

In the tech space, I have seen about a dozen vendors lose business, not because of a lack of performance, but rather a lack of attention. If you’re not making each client of yours feel like they are the most important client you have, just like the couple waiting for their pizza, you have alienated them.

I guess the bottom line is that…

Small Business Can Teach Us Incredible Lessons

There’s something incredible about working for the owner of a small business. They’re scrappy, diligent, and experts of their craft. They know every trick to the trade, and there are dozens of lessons that they can teach you about being a better employee, even if they know nothing about your job.

This is why I’m so excited to be hosting a town hall with our friends at inSourceCode today to help teach small business owners how they can improve their online presence.

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Did you know that 53% of small businesses in Indiana don’t have a website? 

When I first heard that, I was floored. Luckily, so was inSourceCode founder, Jayson Manship. Jayson believes that small businesses deserve better, which is why he’s joining us today for an incredible event.

Jayson is joining Verge along with experts on social media, Yelp, Angie’s List, and SEO to help small business owners around the state learn how they can leverage the web to grow their businesses. This isn’t a typical Verge event, but I’m asking for the Verge community to come out and show their support in the Fight For Small Campaign. Let’s come out strong to show the state how strongly the tech community believes in small business. 

Speaking of Small Business…

What lessons have you learned from small businesses? What about food service jobs? I have one more post to share on lessons Alex taught me, and if you guys share your stories, I’ll share a fourth post that is SUPER embarrassing that you will all get a kick out of. 

So please, drop a comment with something you’ve learned from an unexpected mentor and I just might share an embarrassing story soon. :)