It was the end of a long day of training for a large group of healthcare executives from all over the country. We had fun that afternoon, getting to know what makes people tick and how to get their teams to work more effectively together. I had put them through all kinds of exercises in writing their action plans to take home and implement. Now it was time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. I wanted to treat them to what the Heartland is known for: Nebraska corn fed steaks and memorable customer service. At first glance, I feared we may have been disappointed.
Twelve Chief Medical Officers and CEOs of a national health services firm and I headed to a local Italian Steakhouse – one of the iconic Caniglia establishments – Eli Caniglia’s Venice Inn. Venice Inn has been serving fantastic steaks and Italian fare for 54 years and unlike many newcomer restaurants to the city that run through wait staff like a waterfall, it’s always nice to see the familiar faces of a staff that has been in place for an average of 20 years. My favorite there (and I know many of you will wrinkle your noses in dislike) is their liver pate. Even friends who can’t stand liver pate have commented that it was “pretty good”!
Monday nights are not typically a a busy night in most restaurants, but the parking lot at Venice Inn looked unusually sparse on this evening. We walked through the large wooden doors, and were greeted by Chuck Caniglia who gently informed us that they were closed for a private party. I was disappointed, and shared with Chuck that I really wanted to share a classic piece of Omaha with my clients. He hesitated only a minute, then asked how many were in the party. I told him thirteen, and he asked us to wait a few minutes.
Shortly thereafter, he led the baker’s dozen of us to a private dining room. We ordered off the menu and had a fun, leisurely dinner. Because their staff was mostly focused on the private party, we were served jointly by Chuck and his brother Jerry most of the time. When wait staff were available, they provided refills and cleared tables. We were treated royally by these two owners who went out of their way to accommodate us even though they were busy with another group. We were served with smiles and conversations – Chuck and Jerry took time to find out from where everyone was visiting and personally welcomed them to Omaha.
What a great model for customer service and building customer loyalty!!! Very simply, as business owners, they chose to serve a group rather than turn away business. They could have been grumpy and behaved like they were inconvenienced by the extra work, but they didn’t. They still put their best foot forward and delivered quality food and service. They went above and beyond service expectations, and I sent a letter thanking them and informing them that I would be telling that story as an example of extraordinary service.
Going beyond what is expected is what makes customer service memorable. If you are really listening to what your customers want, need and desire, you can provide memorable moments in your service that tells them you really care. It allows you to connect (if even for a sort period of time) on a personal level which makes them feel special – not ‘another one of the crowd’. It’s been said that “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care”. When you demonstrate caring that speaks to customers personally, they remember what you did and they will tell that story – just as I have with Venice Inn.
Saturday, May 3 was the last evening for Venice Inn.
Their doors are now closed with Chuck and Jerry choosing to spend more time with their families rather than 60 or 70 hours working a week. This is the first time in 94 years that the city of Omaha will be without a Caniglia-named Italian restaurant. I will miss lunches and dinners there. Chuck and Jerry modeled what memorable moments in service and treatment of customers and employees should be. May it be a lesson to all of us in our businesses: Kindness, consideration, above and beyond, connection…relationships…gratitude.
Thanks Chuck and Jerry for a great run!!!
What great memorable customer experiences have you experienced or delivered?