Are customers a nuisance or your reason for existence?

customer-ride-steve-davisWhat I love about the Top End is the down-to-earth nature of most social and commercial interactions.

This means, most places accept you as you are and you don’t have to dress to the nines when you wander down the shop for a pint of milk.

But, as a shop owner, salesperson or service provider, striking the right balance between the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude and the ‘customer is always right’ mentality all boils down to respect; respect between both parties.

From a customer’s perspective, there is little difference in being treated rudely by a sales assistant or bar tender wearing shorts and thongs or by a waiter or GP wearing their best suits.

I recently experienced both ends of the service spectrum in Darwin, and will share with you what I learned from them.

Can you see yourself in any of the examples that follow?

Basil Fawlty got it wrong

We all love Fawlty Towers.

Basil Fawlty being rude to guests and getting himself in a muddle is funny because it is so unbelievable – well, it should be, anyway.

I was kindly invited to dinner at Tramontana on my last visit. It is an Italian restaurant in Darwin run by John Spellman.

I had been warned that Spellman is known for his rudeness with his reputation amplified through numerous news stories, including this one from the NT News about telling women to keep their legs closed.

But there is a huge difference between the comedic rudeness of Basil Fawlty and the ‘real life’ rudeness that we experienced.

To be fair, our waiter had just been told off publicly by Spellman and was possibly on edge, but he managed to do his best to harass us for our order before ignoring us the rest of the night.

We did feel like we were a burden to him.

However we got the full show, he looked down his nose at us, sighed heavily while we deliberated and even got some rolled eyes. It was the perfect trifecta of disrespect.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the night was the hilarious climax.

It was just after 10pm and the other four tables of the ‘busy’ Friday night had left. Spellman dismissed his staff and we were alone, drinking our after dinner whisky.

Lights went out.

Classical music started playing loudly.

Classical stopped and changed to something else. Volume went up and down. Classical returned.

It then occured to us that rather than shuffle 10 metres to our table to enquire if we were finished, Spellman performed a bizarre ‘Morse code’ sound show with his PA system, most likely to ‘drive away the vermin’ occupying one of his tables.

Here is the kicker. When we relented and went to bar to pay, he thrust out his hand to grab our bill. But we had not been presented with one yet.

It is quite possible the elaborate theatre of rude avoidance was based on an assumption that we were stubbornly sitting on a bill and refusing to draw the curtains on the night. Instead, his suffering was prolonged because neither he nor his waiter had bothered to communicate with us and offer the bill.

I am sure this tale will do nothing to change affairs at Tramontana, after all, if a paying customer is ignored while in the restaurant, why should a blogger be given time of day?

From a marketing perspective, before you argue that any publicity is good publicity, I think that to follow the Spellman model of customer ‘service’ would be a disastrous move.

  • Firstly, it appears the Spellman model is based on a particular history that allowed such habits to develop.
  • Secondly, as Hugh Mackay points out in Things That Make Us Tick, ‘respect’ is the most crucial foundation stone to building relationships and connections between people. In business, respect for our customers and ourselves, is the single most important key to success because it means we strive to meet needs and provide value. He also argues that lack of respect or active disrespect is an invitation to spite and revenge.
  • Thirdly, unless you have a monopoly, and even they are under constant threat, fuelling poisonous stories about your business is a very risky strategy. In our socially connected world, bad news travels faster than wild fire these days.

The most valuable ‘take away’ for me from the night was crafting a new sales diagnostic tool, What Would Spellman Do? This simple device brings clarity to a situation because the moment you have identified the answer, you do the opposite.

King for a transaction

The very next morning, I was taken to the airport by Marx Wegener from Darwin Limousines.

Marx had attended one of my workshops and was keen to show me the attention to detail he prides himself on in his business.

So, again, we have another business in the service industry positioned at the ‘exclusive’ end of town, but with a very different demeanour.

In Max, nothing was too much trouble.

He follows protocols for confirming bookings, he maintains his dignity while also taking great pride in looking after the ‘mundane’ tasks like loading suitcases, etc, and as the trip took place there were little flourishes (like the refreshing face towel before the journey) that all were done for a reason.

I was particularly intrigued by his door opening manner when we arrived at the airport.

Unlike any other time I had used a chauffeur, Marx stood by the car rather than the door after opening it. He then explained why.


You stand toward the rear of the door after opening because:

  1. If you are at the door handle, the door will be between you and the passenger. You can not assist the passenger with anything.
  2. If you are at the door handle, you are then in a position to look up a lady’s dress. or be perceived to be in such position.
  3. If you stand by the rear of the car, then, in case of an emergency/attack/ paparazzi you are in a position to protect or shield your passenger.

I was so impressed, I even shot a short video on my iPhone. It is a little shaky, but it gives you a taste of customer service through the way Marx has thought through the needs of his customers. I will embed the video at the end of this story.

These small examples of attention to detail do not seem to be a burden to Marx, he seems to thrive in it. As a result, he gets lots of repeat business.

How close is your customer or prospective customer to the centre of your world?

My thinking, as a marketer at Baker Marketing where we argue that ‘marketing is the guardian of the customer’, is that we could all do a lot better if we asked ourselves, What Would Marx Do?

But that will only have value if the flourishes are relevant to our customers and offered as naturally as breathing. I am sure many other limousine drivers could copy the ‘fancy bits’ but still fail to impress with flaws in attitude.

Here’s to our customers!


Speak Your Mind