The office buzzed with the voices of many visitors today. Our company was host to a “Grow Your Business” workshop, and the staff room was full of eager business owners all morning. Business coach, Robert Staub, introduced several business tools during his presentation, and many of us were excited about implementing new ideas in our customer relationships. One of the tools he touched on was completing 2-3 HVA’s a day….High Value Activities.
These are activities that end with measurable results, such as working on your website for 1 hour or making 3 phone calls on your prospect list. These are vital to a business owner that is serious about his company and its growth, because they are activities that add value to an already cherished investment.
More work followed at the office, then I scooted out to a bid and secured a new customer, ending the work day on a high note. Afterwards, I pulled up to my favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant to have a nice dinner, relax and read a bit, and then head home. The restaurant was busy with activity…unusual for a Wednesday night.I was greeted by name at the door ( yeah, I go there a lot) and seated in my usual place out of the way of most foot traffic.
The waiter came back to the table with my order (yeah he knew what I usually order on my “reading” nights), and turned and left. I paid little attention since I was engrossed in my book, but when I looked up a few minutes later I noticed there was a small bowl of cheese dip and nothing else on the table….no chips, no complimentary salsa, no drink. Odd…but I waited for him to bring the rest of my order. Waitresses and waiters, including mine, scurried back and forth, continually passing my table, even looking my way and smiling, but never coming over to see if I needed anything, and looking away too quickly for me to get their attention. There was a table full of giggling teens across from me and each time the staff passed them the table got some kind of acknowledgment, a questioning after their needs, some kind of service. Further up from me, there was a young family that flagged the waitresses several times for napkins ( young kids), more drinks, replacement forks for those that found their way to the floor. Other tables were serviced well and often, and I waited, feeling totally forgotten after a period of time. Finally a waiter from another section of the restaurant passed my table as I looked up, I suppose, with a expression as if I had been abandoned by my peeps. He came over to me, and took a look at the table confused. “They have brought you no chips, and no drink?” I answered that they had not, and he said he would investigate the problem, walking away saying something under his breath in Spanish. By this time, I had been seated almost 20 minutes. Under normal circumstances, I would have made more of an issue, or at most left the restaurant and found another place to eat. But I knew this was the last night this restaurant would be open, and I wanted to eat there one last time. I knew the good service they had given in the past, the way I was made to feel important and valued, so the little annoyances this night were not immediately recognized. I was hoping to get what I had come to expect, and what I hoped for, and the promise I had been given on the first night I had joined the customer relationship with this little place. So I willingly waited for the issues to get solved, and the staff to get on track and give me again what they had promised when I walked through their door the first time.
As several minutes passed and there was no sign of my savior, and others continued to dismiss me, I began to have some odd feelings rise up in myself. I began to feel not only dismissed, but abandoned, and after a bit more time passed the abandonment turned into a feeling of devaluing and more than a small case of anger. All the past good history here was beginning to vanish in my mind as I started that head talk we all do….”why can’t they see me? Did I give them too difficult an order to fill? I did make it clear to them didn’t I? I mean, they did know for sure what I ordered,…well, yeah they had to, because they had asked ‘The usual?’ and I had said yes”…and on and on. Dumb stuff, but real.
The waiter came back with chips (keep in mind not MY waiter) and apologizes saying ” We have no salsa left, and the frozen drink machine is broken ma’am, can I get you something else?” I could tell by the look on his face, this was not a recent development…when I walked through the front door, there was no salsa and the frozen drink machine was broken…and they all knew what I was going to want. I was going to want ‘the usual”. And that was what they usually promised. But no one told me they could not deliver that this night, hoping I would just accept whatever they had to offer me. I was really miffed now. Why didn’t they just own up they did not have what I would expect, what had been promised before on every other visit, and give me the option to go elsewhere to get what I needed and wanted? I felt oddly used.
I told him to get my waiter to bring me a diet coke.
Another 30 minutes passed, and I realized that although I was a valued customer in my own perception, I was starting to doubt my value to the wait staff. I was becoming part of the scenery, blending into the background, and was being taken for granted. I also knew if I was going to get any service at all, the service that I was promised, had come to expect and deserved, I would have to get someone’s attention somehow. By this time I was pretty insulted by their treatment and lack of interest after my needs. So, I slowly closed my book, put my purse on my arm, got out of my seat and just stood by my booth and waited for someone to notice me.
Almost immediately three of the wait staff came from their respective corners, asking after my needs, flying back to the kitchen, and within 3 minutes I had substitute items brought to me in an attempt to restore my relationship with them. I ate dinner, finished a chapter of my book, paid my bill without a tip, and left the restaurant for the last time. The good feelings about the little place faded very quickly…I received a half-hearted attempt to fulfill their original promise to me as a customer, and this will be the memory I leave them with…non-stellar and forgettable.
I thought about this on the way home as I passed through my dark, quiet neighborhood. I was still having a hard time shaking the feelings of neglect and dismissal by people I barely knew…but why? I suddenly remembered a Bible verse in James that says “if you see a sister or brother that is poor and lacking in daily food and we say to them ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’, then what good is that?”
And my thoughts went further…
How many times do we pass by those we know are in need for the most basic of life’s promises…shelter, food, clothing…and we divert our eyes, or hope someone else will answer their plea? How many people in our close circle of relationships did we make promises to long ago but somehow let those go by the wayside? We promised to love, cherish, care for them…but now we admonish them to “be warmed and filled” as we pass them by and dismiss their need for help because we are drowning in our own consuming issues? How many in our world go unnoticed, untouched, unloved, and unimportant to someone until they stand and say ” I will be ignored no longer”? And why does it take others, like the waiter that took care of my needs…. to notice, come alongside, embrace and value those that we should be rushing to heal, nurture and care for first? Or why do we take care of those who give us the most pay off, or make us look the best, but tell those closest to us to care for their own needs…and be filled?
We easily forget it is our privilege to serve those we love or see in need, but it is also a mandate. The empty cannot just go and be filled with food, or love, or value, or appreciation. Those in our circle become our HVA’s, in a way. When we highly value another, we give them the promise of rest, they know they are cherished, and the relationship we have will grow as we invest ourselves in others. Those in need should never have to stand up to our poor treatment for us to notice them…we should count it our privilege to come alongside and serve without being asked, as we place their interests above our own. And I can only imagine there will be many measurable results to follow, and all will be stellar and remembered as the relationships grow and are cherished by our simple acts.