I just got back from a dream vacation in Italy with my family. From Rome to Tuscany to Cinque Terre to Florence and finally to Venice, we were blown away by the food, wine, history, and views that greeted us everywhere we turned. But, what struck me most was how nice the Italians were.
They went out of their way to really make us feel welcome and comfortable. Yes, many of them were in the tourism industry and their livelihood depended on pleasing travelers just like us. However, as a whole they did one thing that really took our experience above and beyond: they catered to our needs and wants.
They went far beyond making sure the food was out on time or our room was ready for check in. They had clearly taken the time to learn about the American culture and understand what we were used to. That allowed them to provide an authentic Italian experience that also made us feel comfortable.
For example, many Italians don’t have or don’t use air conditioning. They simply leave the windows open. For most of our trip, we managed to make do. But in our last Airbnb, one overly hot evening that ended with lots of bug bites and little sleep, and put us at our wits’ end. We texted the owner of the property, and she promptly responded with instructions on how to turn off the heat and turn on the air conditioning. We filed that away for when we returned from our day’s adventures. However, when we got back to the apartment, we discovered she had come there herself and printed out very detailed instructions in English to help us have a more comfortable evening. The extra time that she took made a world of difference and led to a wonderful second night of sleep.
As another example, Italians eat their meals slowly and in many courses. My family and I had read up on their practices so that we wouldn’t offend anyone, but we quickly encountered many waiters who already knew what we were used to and catered to our preferences. For example, they knew we’d rather have salad before our main course, not after, and were more than happy to accommodate that request. They didn’t scoff when we drank too much water or asked for ice in our sodas. If we were ever confused about how to order, they tried their best to explain and understand what we were hoping for. We also received recommendations that truly made each meal more extraordinary than I ever could have dreamed of. Even better—the recommendations were never the most expensive thing on the menu as I feel I often encounter in the US. These servers just wanted us to have the best meal possible—and many times we did!
Businesses in any industry or country can learn from these experiences. Just because you think one way is going to be faster or more convenient, doesn’t mean that your customer agrees. You need to be prepared to provide the service that your customers want. Being flexible and accommodating is just as important as speed and accuracy when providing your customers with a great experience.
Make sure that your customer-facing employees are empowered and ready to change the service that they are providing based on each individual customer. Encourage your entire organization to understand all of the different customers that are frequenting your business and learn about what they expect to experience when they work with you. You never know how much of a difference it may make to serve an extra piece of bruschetta to a family of 5 when the traditional serving is only 4.