Life, Business & Coffee #17: Did They Miss Us? Lessons from a Hand-Roll.

Every family has its traditions, and ours has one or two that we’ve slipped into, the most notable being Takeout Tuesdays. It started a few years ago when my wife and I discovered our favorite Indian restaurant, and we both love a good curry. So began the tradition of Takeout Tuesdays.

Our kids only joined the tradition about a year ago, partly because they don’t all share our love for spicy food, and partly because we never know who is home from one day to the next. But things have settled, and we now regularly have one of the girls with us on Takeout Tuesday’s, and her favorite is sushi.

For the last three years, every Tuesday, at about the same time in the evening, I call up the Indian restaurant and place the order. It’s the same order that I’ve placed every Tuesday at the same time for the last three years. They still don’t recognize my voice.

The Chinese restaurant uses Appetite- a nifty app, especially when you’re ordering from people whose home language isn’t English. It’s also nifty because I can call up the last order, repeat it, pick a credit card and in a minute the order is placed and paid for. Plus I’ve donated R1 to a charity without realizing because I didn’t uncheck the box.

Then we do the drive-by dash. The Chinese place is first, so I double park on Grant Avenue, which has red lines down both sides, but somehow I can still never find a place to stop because of all the cars parked along the road on the red line, especially on a Tuesday, which seems to be Maid’s night off, and the entire neighborhood is out to dinner. My daughter hops out, and collects the merchandise, by which time I’ve now circled the block, paused for just the right amount of time at the stop sign along the way and emerged back in the main road just in time for her to hop in and we’re on our way to the Indian place where we repeat the process once more.

One week, my daughter wasn’t with us. When we resumed Takeout Tuesdays the following week, the guy at the Chinese restaurant asked me where my daughter was the week before and if she was ok. When it’s my turn to do the drop-in dash and collect from the counter while my daughter waits in the car, the guy knows me and my daughter so well that he hands the order to me over the counter before I’ve even reached the front desk. They now know us so well that as we stop on the main road, they meet us in the street and hand our order to us through the car window.

Not so much with the Indian place even though they’ve had us as customers for a full two years longer than the Chinese place. Every time I call, they treat me like a complete stranger. When I walk in to collect, they still ask me what my order is.  If I don’t order from them one week, they don’t ask what happened to me or if something was wrong. I wonder if they’ve even missed me. The only reason we go back again and again is because they make a good curry. If there was an alternative, I’d defect with no regard for loyalty.

So what do we learn from a simple hand-roll? It doesn’t take much to make your customer feel special and welcome. A simple nod of recognition, remembering what you did for a customer the last time, and addingsomething  unexpected and surprising that doesn’t take much effort but that your customer will remember forever. It doesn’t matter that your hand-roll doesn’t stand out from the competitor across the street. Your customer remembers you for your service. On the other hand, leaving these little things out makes your customer open to compare your service to other, more attentive competitors, irrespective of the fact that your product is superior.

Customers want more than the product they signed up for, but they won’t tell you what they want. The little things that make the difference aren’t material things, they’re the little things you do that demonstrate the way you’ve thought about each individual customer’s needs.

A well delivered hand-roll can be the hottest, most in-demand item, even more so than the most fiery vindaloo.

In other news, you now have a choice of three (yes, three. I’m proud to announce) novels by Adam Rabinowitz to entertain you. Check out Porter’s Rule: Slave to the City, Lost Soul – Immortality and Garage Band on and Exclusive Books (SA only).

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