Has The Word Service Become Generic?

By: Julie Crisara

Last month, from my home in Templeton, Calif., I planned a wedding shower for my sister and future brother-in-law, who live in the Chicagoland area. As I started to make all the necessary phone calls to find a venue, caterer, flowers and so on, I quickly realized that even in a down economy, some companies just never get it when it comes to providing good service. Had the word service become generic like Kleenex or Jell-O?

I called various companies and explained this was the first wedding shower I had ever planned for my one and only baby sister, that I wanted it to be very special and, well, perfect.Though I told them that I was 2,200 miles away, I was usually passed along to someone’s voicemail or told that I would get a call back. Or my least favorite response was the suggestion to go online and download a form that I would need to fill out and fax back and then wait for an improbable response.

I was very skeptical at this point about getting reliable results, as you could probably imagine, and decided I would have to fly into Chicago and just put the entire thing together in person. I had become disgusted with the whole process until I came across Kathy, the owner of On Occasion, a caterer in Palatine, IL. As I interviewed Kathy, I began to realize that she was a little different from all the rest.

She had started off the conversation by asking me some questions, and once she took me through her process, I began to realize that she might be more than just your usual caterer. So I thought I would test her service and ask her if she does anything like, oh, let’s say provide tablecloths? She answered with an emphatic “yes.” I then said, “How about plates and utensils?” She nodded while saying, “Of course.” I thought I’d throw her off with the next one. I said, “Kathy, do you think you can handle the centerpieces? I have a specific idea in mind using Vanda orchids that I saw in a Martha Stewart magazine. Is that something you think you can handle if I forward you a picture?”

Kathy stopped writing and put her pen down and said, “Julie, I want you to think about the word caterer and then tell me what it means to you.” Suddenly it all became so very clear. Kathy must have seen the look on my face, and as she put her hand on my shoulder, she said, “My sole job is to attend to your needs and wants so that you can give your one and only baby sister the very special and perfect wedding shower that you always dreamed of.”

Needless to say, all the anxiety that had started to build up in my neck and shoulders in recent weeks had now dissipated as though I had taken a few sips of an apple martini while sitting at the bar waiting for my table at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. I could now take a deep, long breath and stop worrying, knowing that everything is going to be just fabulous in Kathy’s more-than-capable hands. It didn’t matter that Kathy wasn’t the cheapest caterer out there or that her shop was small with only a few employees or that she was located two towns away. What mattered is that she took the time to understand my needs, which were to have someone take care of everything for me. Kathy would provide the service, so that I could also enjoy the party.

If you look at the word “service,” or serve, you will find that there are many definitions. So I would like to offer one up of my own. Serve: To gratify the wants and needs of your customers without them having to lift a finger, make unnecessary phone calls, download forms or fill out contact sheets. The most your customer should have to do for you is provide payment. The rest is up to you and your team of people.

Maybe we should change the title of Customer Service to Customer Caterer.

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