At the end of the day, life is a collection of experiences, most of them to do with people. Through my years of traveling, I’ve been privileged to encounter kindnesses in many forms from many people. Here, I’m sharing my 10 Best Customer Service Moments Ever.
1. The American and Southeast Asian teams of Ritz Carlton. I was planning a New Year’s surprise for my parents who were in Southeast Asia at the time. Because our family wouldn’t be spending the holidays together that year, I wanted to do something special for them. I admit I’m probably one of the most OCD and detail-oriented people in the world when it comes to planning surprises. I wanted a suite for my parents and knowing full well their dietary restrictions, I also wanted to plan out every single dish and beverage during their stay.
From the exact types of tea and cookies to be delivered to their suite ten minutes after their arrival to the exact fish of their main course of New Year’s Eve dinner to the champagne and type of desserts, the Ritz Carlton team treated me with utmost patience, graciousness and willingness to accommodate my every request. I had them bill everything directly to me so that my parents would not even have to whip out their credit card upon check-in.
Over a two-month period and probably a hundred emails later, the Ritz Carlton team helped me to orchestrate a lovely surprise for my wonderful parents, helping to ease not having the whole family together that season. Am I surprised that they lived up to that priceless gold standard? No, but I’m still floored each time they exceed my expectations.
2. Chai Guy in Mumbai. I wish I had gotten his name. I was on a trip to Mumbai and was coming down with a terrible flu with burning fever, runny nose, migraine and stuffy nose complete. On the way from the airport to my hotel, I asked the driver to stop at a roadside Chai stall not far from the hotel. I was craving an authentic swig of that warm, fragrant Indian tea. He looked concerned at my ragged appearance; with a heavy Mumbai accent, he shook his head and insisted that I didn’t need to pay him. Knowing full well that every rupee counts for a tiny business like his, I kept insisting on giving him money for the Chai. After arguing back and forth for a few minutes, my severe exhaustion gave in and I went along to the hotel.
Two days later I was stepping out the hotel and I saw the Chai guy with a big mug of Chai. He ran after me saying he’d been waiting to catch me at the hotel but he only knew my first name and of course hotel security wouldn’t let him in. Apparently he had watched my cab pull into the hotel and wanted to make sure I was ok and give me another cup of my favorite Indian drink. That was one of the experiences that made me fall in love with India. Life has a funny way of showing that people with the least material success have the greatest success heart-wise.
3. Singapore Airlines. What’s the real test of an airline’s service? Traveling in economy class while suffering from a terrible flu. Such was the dreadful case one year while I was in college. After an already long flight from Michigan to San Francisco and hours of layover, I boarded Singapore Airlines to head home to Singapore. Winter had gotten the best of me and I was deliriously feverish with a sore throat, body aches and headache. Not wanting to risk missing the holidays with my family, I dragged myself on board.
Two stewardesses (or Singapore Girl as they are affectionately nicknamed) took immediate concern with me, remembering my name and grabbing my purse and carry-on bag, ushering me to my seat. Realizing how terrible I felt, they somehow managed to find seats for the two people who were supposed to be next to me so that I would have three seats all to myself.
Throughout the twelve hour flight, both ladies repeatedly checked up on me, bringing me warm water, tea and fever-reducing Panadol. In the midst of falling in and out of sleep, I felt one of them rest her hand on my forehead to check on my fever and another covered me in a second blanket. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, the two ladies made special arrangements so that I could stay on-board while ground crew was cleaning and they told of my condition to the oncoming crew to make sure I would be well taken care of all the way to Singapore. I dare any other airline to compete with that.
4. Fruit Salad Grandpa in Jakarta. Several of my childhood and early teenage years were spent in Indonesia with my parents. If you’re not familiar with Southeast Asia, you’ll discover an amazing part of the food culture exists with strolling food stalls. People have mobile wooden carts that sell everything from noodle soups to fruit salads to grilled meats and they just walk around neighborhoods all day peddling their products for very low prices.
One afternoon my family and I bought Rujak (a sweet and spicy Indonesian fruit salad) from an elderly gentleman with a severe hunchback. We felt so terrible that this poor old grandfatherly man had to work so hard pulling a heavy cart given his physical age and condition that we tipped him several times the cost of our order. He vehemently declined the extra money so my parents told him to come by our house every week and we would order a bunch of fruit salad from him regularly. From that day on for the next half year, he came without fail and even gave us extra fruit in every order, continuing to refuse the extra tips.
Finally, after about six months, my parents couldn’t sleep thinking about fruit salad grandpa so they ordered a specially designed motorized cart for him so that he would be able to sit and simply push a lever to get around, nullifying any heavy pulling or balancing. They presented him with the gift and he was overcome with gratitude, tears streaming down his wrinkled face. He wasn’t the only one in tears.
5. The Front Doorman at Mandarin Orchard Singapore. One gentleman has been there for over 30 years. With his tall turban and distinctive curly moustache, he has oddly been one of the incredibly comforting and unchanging factors of my life. I remember him carrying me when I was three years old as my parents took pictures. I remember him commenting on how quickly I was growing up when I was twelve years old. I remember him rushing over to rescue me as I almost toppled from my too-high stilettos when I was twenty-something. He has seen several generations of countless families from around the world in his tenure as head doorman at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore. With his big belly laugh and kind heart, he has been the first and last face that guests encounter of a hotel he helped make iconic. He is the heart of Singapore.
6. Dusit Thani Hua Hin. Years ago when Hua Hin was first being developed as a luxury beach destination, my family and I vacationed there with my 74 year old grandfather, who was by any definition, a rather hefty gentleman. We had to take a boat ride from Bangkok to Hua Hin and unbeknownst to us at the time, the boat would have to throw anchor about 400 meters off shore because the area was so undeveloped that there was no dock.
Once the boat dropped anchor, we were to climb onto rafts- good old fashioned wooden planks tied together kind of rafts; two people at a time with one local Thai man as our raft “navigator,” translate man with stick. We had to jump on the raft at an exact rhythm otherwise the tides would get us soaked. Upon learning of these arrangements, my mother was completely panicked about her Chanel bag while my grandfather absolutely refused to get on the raft. My father, sisters and I had all gone on the raft and reached shore safely, watching from the distance as my mother kept missing the rhythm and my grandfather argued with one guy from the hotel who was there to help us.
After a few minutes, we were astonished to watch the hotel guy (who was a small 5 foot, 120 lb man) pick up my 180 lb grandfather, sling him over his shoulders like a baby and proceed to walk through the water all 400 meters to shore. All that time, my grandfather was not helping matters as he was throwing a temper tantrum, kicking and screaming, adding undue stress to this poor hotel guy who was just trying to rescue him from his fear of water. When the guy reached shore he gently placed my grandfather near us, stood up and massaged his by-now extremely sore back. He went back to rescue not my mother, but her precious Chanel bag, by holding it high above his head and again, walked back to shore. To this day, I cannot find the appropriate words of gratitude towards the Dusit Thani Hua Hin staff for graciously and humorously dealing with these very- shall we say- interesting, characters from my family.
7. Fairmont Hotels. How should we react when an entire hotel staff greets us by name (when not all of them have even met us face to face) with a smile and rushes to stand to the side to let us walk through first? Well, at Fairmont Hotels this kind of treatment is natural and normal so get used to it. At the Fairmont San Francisco, I was flabbergasted to find out that many of the staff members had been with the hotel for longer than I’ve been alive- that’s over 30 years! When the executive management team is on a friendly, first-name basis with every staff member all the way to waiters, bus boys and housekeeping, you know they’re doing it right and that translates to an overall exceptional experience for guests.
At the Fairmont Singapore, staff members remember you by name and face upon your return after just one stay. It seems as if Fairmont has cornered the market on hiring people with photographic memory. Every single time I’m at a Fairmont, I am made to feel like royalty without any stuffiness or pretentiousness and that’s just priceless.
8. Gary Danko Restaurant. What makes a perfect birthday celebration? Being surrounded by people you love in a great ambiance with great food of course. And Gary Danko service. A group of us were celebrating my birthday one beautiful San Francisco evening at the legendary Restaurant Gary Danko. Our host for the dinner was Seamus, a most charming Irishman who was a wine and food aficionado as great as the best of them. Between Seamus’ disarmingly genuine and witty hospitality (think a younger, masculine version of Betty White meets Ina Garten) and the seamless teamwork of the entire Gary Danko staff (dropped napkins were replaced with new ones in less than 3 seconds and the balance of rest and service was perfection), that birthday ranks in my top 5 favorite throughout my life. Did I mention Seamus and two other staff members escorted us from our table to the front doors when we were done with dinner?
9. Citibank. With exception of the exclusive banks that the world’s super wealthy entrust their funds to (though Citibank services them as well), Citibank provides the most superior service among all major banks to service the masses. No matter which branch I’m at around the world, without fail, I am greeted by at least one Citibank member (usually more than one) in a genuinely friendly but professional manner.
Unlike the fake, sugary-sweet service at many other banks, or better yet, the “non-service” at some banks, Citibank team members are a kind of friendly reminiscent of the good old 1980’s, when asking people how their day is going was a real question instead of a passing phrase to be glazed right over. They are also always professionally dressed- a fact which is surprisingly missing in several other major banks. There is a time and place for fun, flirty dresses- banking hours are not it. Citibank team members’ are discreet, patient and go above and beyond to ensure that I’m happy to be their customer.
10. Philz Coffee. People have accused me of being biased because the founder of Philz Coffee- Phil Jaber is one of my greatest idols and a personal mentor. What people need to understand is that that relationship came about from my original and unbiased love of Philz superior coffee and customer service. One afternoon I was meeting Phil at the Berry location and upon walking in to the café, one of the baristas knew who I was based on Phil’s description. In a city filled with Asians, that is no easy task.
“You’re Miss Dina, right?” he asked as I nodded dumbfounded. “Your Mint Mojito is coming right up.” It’s this level of intelligent customer service that Phil has seamlessly instilled in his entire team, going above and beyond to live up to the motto of spreading love through one cup of coffee at a time. I once waited more than a couple of minutes for my Mint Mojito on an extraordinarily busy day for the café and they gave me another large one as an apology. Philz Coffee is the gold standard of the coffee world as Ritz Carlton is to the hotel world.