Being A Good Customer: Brynn Goes to the Olive Garden

The following is a guest post from our friend and colleague, Keith Fuller. Keith is a leadership development and employee engagement consultant at Fuller Game Production with over 13 years of game development experience. He can be found online at fullergameproduction.com or on Twitter as @someproducer.

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Keith Fuller with his daughter, Brynn, on Father's Day

Keith Fuller with his daughter, Brynn, on Father’s Day

It was a Saturday and Grandma and Papa were taking my daughter Brynn out to Olive Garden for a birthday dinner. Their waitress engaged them in a bit of small talk and quickly found out that this was a special occasion.

“Are you going to a movie next?” she asked.

“Yes,” Brynn replied. I’m sure she was rather shy at first.

“What movie?” asked the waitress.

“Frozen!” my daughter answered happily.

“Disney movies are great. My favorite is The Little Mermaid,” she told the 10 year-old as she took everyone’s orders.

The meal went on and Brynn and her grandparents had a great meal together. Afterward Brynn told Papa, “I want to talk to the waitress’ manager.”

“Why?” he asked.

“I want to tell him she’s doing a great job,” Brynn told him.

Papa asked the waitress for her manager. With understandable trepidation she went off to find him. In short order the manager appeared at the table, probably ready to deal with an upset customer. I’m sure he was surprised to hear a 10 year-old girl sing the praises of her waitress.

“She’s doing a really good job, and she’s really nice and a really good people person.”

I wasn’t there to witness the exchange, but I bet the manager was floored. How often does anyone – much less a young girl – pull a manager aside to compliment the performance of a restaurant employee? How often have YOU done it?

Talking with Brynn afterward I helped her think through how many people were affected by her compliments. The waitress was happy and probably recognized ways to pick up her game. The manager – being responsible for his employees – likely felt a sense of accomplishment. The rest of the wait staff undoubtedly heard about it (I’ve worked in a restaurant…these things get around quickly) and saw an example of how to improve their own performance. And I’m sure more than 1000 customers each week thereafter reaped the benefits of all the employees stepping up, all because one person took a couple of minutes to recognize exemplary behavior.

The manager of this particular restaurant may well encourage his employees with positive reinforcement all the time – at least, one would hope he does. But all the uplifting comments he delivers in a year probably won’t have the impact of one customer going out of their way to say something similar. If you want to see any company improve – whether it’s a restaurant, online content delivery, or any other service-related industry – realize the power you have as an individual to influence how the company does what they do.

On the flip side, what if you told the restaurant manager about your super waitress and the response was disinterest?  Or what if you asked for the manager and were told you weren’t allowed to talk to him? What does that tell you about the importance of customer service at this business? Still want to eat there?

One last point that I stressed with Brynn was the importance of recognizing excellence when you’re the manager. When I was a team leader for a bunch of game designers I went out of my way to make sure to tell them when they delivered something exceptional. Since positive comments have such a huge impact on people, leaders should actively search for opportunities to praise their team members.

As someone who teaches leadership development I was happy to see a local restaurant manager get a boost from a customer’s outstanding compliments, but the greatest personal benefit came when Brynn shared one final comment with me.

“You know where I learned to say nice things to a waitress’ manager? From you, Dad.”