South Indian Meal, Curry and an Unforgettable Customer Support Story

Written by on May 7, 2013

There are a lot of ways to turn a customer over – offering them exceptional value, focussing on genius design, delivering a great experience. And sometimes, just sometimes all these come together, with some crispy Dosa crepes, and spicy chutney on the side.

Every time I fly down to the US, I spend the first couple of days binging on subs, hot dogs, and steak. Until I finally start craving some good old Indian food (usually by the end of the first week). So when I spotted the first Indian restaurant in Palo Alto, well into my third week this trip my stomach grumbles told me I should probably just walk in. And who are we, mere mortals, to oppose the cries of the hungry tummy!

The moment I walked in, I knew this restaurant, like every other Indian restaurant, was going to be unique. The strong waft of spicy curry, waiters scuttling about, and the seemingly structured chaos that I was all too familiar with. I settled into a table right next to a group of guys discussing their next startup idea, and outlining their business plan on a soggy crepe of Dosa in typical valley style. If you’ve lived a good part of your life on Indian food, you don’t really need to scan the menu to throw out your order. Judging by the increasingly violent grumbles from my stomach, I knew I wanted a South Indian Meal (or SIM).

The SIM probably holds the record for being the safest, and most forgettable order, ever. To the uninitiated, the SIM is a plate-full of everything Indian. You have breads, and rice. You get lentils and curry and watery soup. There’s a dessert. And sometimes there is a little banana that clearly shouldn’t be there.  You don’t call your wife and mom and tell them you just ate a SIM. You order a SIM for just one reason – because you are hungry, and you want to go all the way. That’s all I wanted, and that’s all I expected.

And then, the waiter came along and changed everything for me.

Traditionally, each dish in the SIM is served in little cups, with unlimited seconds (or thirds, and so on). Of course, you will need to flag down a passing waiter and request a refill, which means most SIM customers end up with an elaborate dance involving flailing hands and eye contact.

And that’s the first thing that made our waiter awesome – he was there, ready with his big ladle of curry, gravy and rice everytime we looked up from our plates. No song. No dances.

Shall I fill in the blanks? Or should I chip in?

Good waiters make sure you get the things you ask for in light speed. Great waiters make sure you don’t even have to ask. Each time we finished a bowl of spiced potatoes or fried chicken, our waiter would be standing ready. Twice, he asked us if he should just fill in the blanks, before he proceeded to refill all the cups on our SIMs. And at least once he asked us if we’d like him to chip in, before throwing us some crispy chips.

Mom, I just had the best SIM Ever!

Despite the number of months that have gone by, I still remember that meal and the enthusiastic waiter who served us at that little Indian restaurant at Palo Alto. I’ve been talking about this great guy ever since (even writing a whole story about him). And I sure will drop in the next time my stomach throws a grumble tantrum when I’m around Palo Alto.

But did the waiter have to be nice? No. Did his work demand him to be so awesome? Not really. But he did, nevertheless. And that gave a regular, forgettable SIM a personality that I will always remember. He made me excited enough to talk, share the story. And that is the real customer experience that every smart business yearns for.

To put things in perspective, do you have your enthusiastic support agents waiting to wow your customers? And is your support team empowered to “chip in” proactively when customers need an extra hand, or are they still waiting for some flailing hands and eye-contact?

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  • That’s a great story. When I was studying in Pune we used to go to place called Sunrise Cafe where unlike other places a student ordering humble Bun Maska and Chai used to get equal importance. The best part of that place was the waiters who used to genuinely care about you, not the trained care you get in most of the places. Same goes with the businesses. If a company genuinely cares, it shows in their interactions with customers. In return a customer who feels touched will go to any length to remain loyal and promote that brand.

    • Brandon

      Great example, which had the side effect of making me now crave Indian food!

      While the food in any given restaurant is the reason for visiting, the service will make or break the establishment. As Shya commented, good service will create loyalty and also market with credibility.