S5E14: Fresh Approach Beats Out Cost Control

We are in the people business and we need to treat our people and customers with the respect that they deserve.” Peter Margaritis

Saving a few pennies is not worth losing a customer. In this era of social media, bad reviews, pictures of disappointing meals, and word of mouth can significantly impact your business. While we must always watch our costs in order to make a profit, it is important to realize that it is the revenues that drive that profit. If we don’t get a return business, we lose revenue, and the business loses sustainability and growth period.

As a professional speaker, I customize my presentation to each audience and never do the exact same presentation twice. It takes a lot of work, and has been a key driver in the success is my business for 12 years. I will never serve leftovers to my audience or client. It’s simply not a good business plan or practice.

We all need to remember that we are in the people business. We have no business when we don’t treat our people and customers with the respect that they deserve, and provide them with a constantly reliable and top quality product or service

Listen To Your Customers. They Will Tell You All About Why Excellent Customer Service is a Lost Art.

Growing up, I worked in a family restaurant in Lexington, KY, because I am a Greek American, and that is what most of my family did for a living. However, my father took another approach, and he owned a liquor store. In both cases, providing excellent customer service was the standard because that is the formula to success in business. They didn’t use words like – the customer experience because that is a synonym for excellent customer service.

Then what the hell happened to excellent customer service because it seems like that is harder to find than the Loch Ness monster, bigfoot, and a roll of toilet paper all put together. That is a scavenger hunt for the adventurous.

For example, I am a recent customer of AT&T TV, which provides a streaming TV service through their recent purchase of Directv. When I contacted them to begin my new service, it was in the middle of the month. As we were finalizing the purchase, I asked, will you be prorating the service for this month. The customer service person responded, ‘We don’t prorate our service anymore. We thought it was silly to do so.” WHAT?! Silly? When I think of silly, I think of the MTV show Ridiculous or YouTube Cat Videos or The Office Memes.

I needed to look up the definition of silly to see what I was missing. According to the Oxford Language Dictionary, the definition of silly is “having or showing a lack of common sense or judgment; absurd and foolish.” I am beside myself why any organization would think it would be silly to charge the customer the exact amount of money for the service rendered. Or are they thinking that providing excellent customer service by overcharging the customer serves that purpose? In business improv, this is a genuine lack of respect for the customers they are serving.

Let’s take a different turn and put the focus on those professions that tend to be very technical in nature – accounting, medical and health care, engineers, scientists, etc… Being very technical, in essence, means they speak a very different language than plain English. But, unfortunately, these professionals tend to forget that their audience does not speak their technical language.

For example, a few years ago, I had some tests done, and I received a phone call from my doctor on a Friday afternoon. That’s right, my doctor, not the nurse. I didn’t think she was calling to offer me Ohio State Football tickets for the next day. Instead, she said that the test results came back, and I may have – gibberish sounding words. Lots of gibberish-sounding words, along with more gibberish-sounding terms. I interrupted her and said, could you please explain this to me in plain English. She paused for a moment and said that “I may have cancer.” How hard was that? Was there an attorney sitting across from her desk making sure she was speaking in medial gibberish? Who knows.

Let’s bring this example into the world of accounting, particularly public accounting. I hear story after story after story about CPAs clients leaving a meeting and having no clue what the CPA was trying to communicate because the CPA was communicating in ACCOUNTING Gibberish. Similar sounding words that my doctor spoke to me. The language of business – accounting – is a foreign language to those who do not have the same depth of knowledge and speak. Have you ever traveled to a foreign country and, before arriving, not invested anytime in trying to learn the basics of the language like – “where is the bathroom, how much for a beer, why is everyone taking an afternoon nap?” Instead, we get frustrated because they don’t speak English in their own country. Arrogant.

To top it all off, when CPAs are trying to explain something to a client using an excel spreadsheet, they should be arrested for exceeding the speed limit and abusive behavior. They are going a mile a minute AND bouncing around the spreadsheet-like a super ball. If they continue to do this either in person or on Zoom, they need to issue air sickness bags before they begin.

There is a communication problem that exists, and it is a prominent blind spot for the CPA. You know why because they continue to act this way even though you “the client” did instruct them that you don’t speak ACCOUNTING or TAX, and you don’t need to see all the detail. This type of behavior is affecting the overall customer service they are providing to their clients. However, when I have asked those frustrated clients why don’t they change CPA firms, their response is usually, “this is my second or third firm, and they all have the same issues. Therefore, I will keep my current firm because I trust them even though I don’t understand what they are trying to communicate to me.” That to me sounds like a loveless marriage, and we are staying there because it is easier.

Earlier this year, a colleague contacted me asking for a referral to a CPA firm. A family member had been doing the books for several years, and the business outgrew the capabilities of the family member. On a side note, the family member suffered from excessive Accounting Gibberish and using excessive speeds while operating a spreadsheet. I suggested two regional firms and one small local firm.

The decision was made to go with the smaller CPA firm, thinking they would communicate better with them. My colleague did share early on that they are not fluent in accounting and keep the conversation at a high level and put it in language that they understood – let’s call that plain ENGLISH! Since signing on as a client, there have been some struggles until recently, when it escalated to a full-blown meltdown.

My colleague called one afternoon in TEARS after a Zoom meeting with the CPA firm because they didn’t understand what the CPA was trying to explain to them, AND they were trying to explain this via an excel spreadsheet with 50 columns and 500 rows. The spreadsheet was not that big, except it felt that big as the CPA was trying to explain it at Mach 4 speed while Tigger was bouncing around the rows, columns, and cells. They just wanted it to be over and did not want to ask any questions because they felt stupid enough and didn’t want to feel worse.

No client or customer should ever have to go through this same type of treatment even though the CPA had no clue the negative impact they were having on their client. On a selfish plug, that is why I wrote the book Taking the Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity so CPAs can better connect, communicate, and collaborate with all of their clients.

Once a firm realizes that explaining the financial information in plain English and using stories to help understand, they will have a substantial competitive advantage in the marketplace. So be that firm whose clients rave about excellent client service because you are a translator of financial information so that your client’s business bottom line will improve way beyond their wildest dreams. BTW – you know that referrals are the best and cheapest form of marketing.

Let me help you become better translators of your complex financial information so that you can gain the competitive advantage over your competition. Please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com.

Customer Service Extraordinaire: Ciao Bella, Part Deux

Damien, The Bartender
Damien, The Bartender

In my April newsletter I wrote about the outstanding customer service experience I enjoyed at Ciao Bella, an Italian restaurant in Bloomington, MN. Well, I was back in Bloomington to deliver two seminars for the Minnesota Society of CPAs, was staying at the same hotel, and couldn’t wait to have dinner at my favorite restaurant.

It was a Sunday evening, and the restaurant wasn’t crowded so I had my pick of barstools. I assumed that most residents were busy getting ready for the big snowstorm that was predicted to drop a foot or more of snow in the area. Since it had been seven months or so since my last visit to Ciao Bella, I wanted to see if my first experience there would be repeated.

I ordered a drink from a bartender, Damien, who served me during  my first visit. As he was making the drink he took one look at me and said, “You’ve been in here before, I just can’t remember the details but I remember you.” Wow, I did not expect anyone to remember me so I introduced myself, told him the story about my

Sue, The Great Manager
Sue, The Manager

first visit to the restaurant. Damien immediately put two-and-two together and thanked me for the generous tips I had left (great service deserves generosity). A bit later I saw Sue, the manager, and asked her to come over. Same thing – with a bit of story telling she recognized me and was happy I had returned.

I enjoyed dinner there a couple of evenings  – the only thing that exceeded the wonderful food was the exceptional service. Once again, if you ever visit Bloomington go to Ciao Bella. Say hi to Damien and Sue, and tell them Pete Margaritis sent you!.



(On a side note – Bloomington received about 3 inches of snow but 20 miles north they had a foot or more. Kinda reminds me of snowfall in Cleveland.)

Customer Service Extraordinaire: Ciao Bella

ciaobella_logoHow many of you are tired of poor customer service?  Ever feel the phrase “good customer service” is an oxymoron? My pet peeve (to be fair, one of my pet peeves) is when I am seated in a restaurant and somehow become invisible to the wait staff. So frustrating. But then I came across an Italian restaurant named Ciao Bella in Bloomington, MN, a town outside of Minneapolis, and my faith in customer service was renewed.

I was in Minnesota presenting two full-day courses at the Minnesota Society of CPAs and Ciao Bella’s was very close to the hotel I was staying.  So, despite the late-March snowfall, I decided to walk over to Ciao Bella for dinner.  I walk in at 6 PM on a Tuesday evening to find a completely packed bar. I make my way through the crowd and find an empty bar stool at the corner of the bar which is directly behind the beer taps, virtually invisible to the bartender.

Within seconds the bartender, Brittany, came over and asked how my day was and would I like a cocktail.  I was in shock! I didn’t have to send up a flare, smoke signals, or fake a heart attack to get her attention.  Get this, I ordered my cocktail and within two minutes (not three, not four, not five) Brittany delivered my cocktail and with a great big smile asked me if I was going to stay for dinner. Crazy, right?  I must be in the Seinfeld episode, Bizarro World.

As I was reviewing the menu, Damien came over and asked if everything was okay and would I like to place an order (remember I am sitting behind the beer taps). As I was enjoying my dinner, both Damien and Brittany checked to see if everything was okay. During my meal, I noticed the bartenders interacting with other patrons, and it became very obvious that there were many, many regulars that night.

After dinner I ordered another drink and asked for the check. When I examined the check I noticed that my second drink order was missing. When I told Britney that she forgot to charge me for the second drink, she replied ”we take care of our newbies.” I was speechless. I had a look on my face of ultimate confusion, and felt like I was in the Twilight Zone!  Wow, this was incredible: they made me feel like I had been coming to this restaurant for years.  As I left, I was thinking that they couldn’t do this again tomorrow. Could they?

Next day I arrive Ciao Bella at 5:15 PM and again the bar was packed plus the dining room was about 90% full. Again I found a barstool at the other end of the bar behind those bar taps, and was immediately greeted by Brittany who remembered me AND my flavor of an adult beverage. This was really intriguing, and I wanted to learn more. I started a conversation with the man sitting next to me only to find out that this guy is the “Mayor of Ciao Bella’s.” (Norm from Cheers is a better analogy but I threw everyone a curve with the Twilight Zone reference). The “mayor” frequently travels to this part of Minnesota, and every time he’s in town he has dinner here. Guess what, he’s been doing this for over five years and he knows all the employees by name because, as he states, “nobody leaves.”  He even knows their spouses. I asked him why he thought nobody leaves, to which he replied, “they take care of their people very well.”

About that time the manager of the bar, Sue, comes over to me and says, “you here last night, right?” Sooo (Minnesota accent) I engaged her into a long conversation about why Ciao Bella’s treats their people so well while many others in the business do not.  Sue reiterated that the restaurant’s mission statement is all about treating people with the utmost respect, their own Golden Rule, that applies to both the internal customer and the external customer. This is amazing – very low turnover in the restaurant business is extremely rare. I should know because I am Greek and was raised in the restaurant business.

I was so amazed by this conversation that Sue introduced me to the general manager, Scott Schoeing, The story that Scott told me mirrored the conversation that I had with Sue. Treat people well and you’ll be amazed what they will do for you. A simple concept that can be applied to all businesses, divisions, departments, customers, and clients.  Sometimes we make things way too complicated when simple is powerful.

Bottom line, if you ever find yourself anywhere near Bloomington, MN, take the time to stop in to Ciao Bella’s for dinner and experience for yourself their customer service extraordinaire.  Be sure to say hello to Britney, Damien, Thea, Scott, Sue, Naomi and Michael, and please tell them I said hello and I will be back again.