Kill Your Customers With Kindness

“Sow good services; sweet remembrances will grow them.” – Madame de Stael

Killing his customers with kindness has been the policy of PM, a restaurateur in my neighborhood, who has used it to develop a chain of eight or 10 businesses that are very profitable. Sometimes, he sells them and cashes in — but after he stops managing them, they often go down the tubes.

I’ve mentioned him before. His policy is this: Whatever the customer wants … whatever. That may mean the pasta in one dish, the tomato sauce in another, the carrots diced not sliced, the oregano fresh, the cheese cut not grated, a bowl “I can pick from,” etc.

I am amazed at how much crap PM’s waiters put up with. They never blanch. They never balk. They always smile and say something like, “But of course, Mr. So and So. Whatever you want.”

His customers are sometimes downright ridiculous. I’ve actually seen waiters yelled at.

“The noodles are shiny! There must be oil in the noodles!”

“I believe the shininess is from the water, Sir. They just came out of the boiling water.”

“It’s not water. It’s oil. Take it away and bring me some new noodles.”

“But of course, Sir. Anything you want.”

I’d be the first to sympathize had this waiter asked this impossible S.O.B. to leave and never come back. But, being the dining partner of the S.O.B., I was glad he didn’t. I am also quite sure that this bend-over-backward policy is one of the main reasons all of PM’s restaurants are packed year-round in an area that has a very fickle eating crowd.

Your customer-service policy should be bend-over-backward too. Your employees should be trained to do everything they possibly can to please customers — even the most demanding ones. They should be taught not only to give customers what they want but also to do so with a smile.

Running your business this way is not the only thing you need to do to be successful (you need good marketing and a good product too), but it will make your business easier and more profitable every year. That’s because your customer base will increase faster than it would otherwise.

In the beginning, when your customer base is small, you’ll have to work terribly hard just to make ends meet. But at some point in time, you’ll hit a certain point in terms of the number of your regular customers — a critical mass or “tipping point” — after which everything that follows will be easy.

Getting to that point before your cash runs out is the basic challenge of making your start-up succeed. You’ll get to that point — and then move way beyond it — if you can keep your customers happy.