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A five star shoeshine? Imagine that!

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By Charlie Flood

I have been traveling through New York’s LaGuardia Airport for the past 57 years. My first flight was on a TWA Constellation, if you can remember that!

Throughout the years, I have seen a lot of change. One of the most interesting changes is in the D Gates area of the main terminal. It is a change that few people would notice without stopping to listen. In that wing of the terminal is John the shoeshine guy. And he is amazing.

“A three-dollar shoe shine and a 10-minute show included,” says Scot B., a customer from California. “John could teach the most seasoned marketing executives the art of a brand. He is fun, he is clever, and you can’t help but love him. I paid $3 and gave him a $17 tip for his life lessons learned from his dad and grandfather!”

Five Star Client Service takes great listening and communication skills, the technical ability to deliver more than the client expects, and the wisdom to offer ‘dessert.’ Sure, there are more steps, but what can you expect for $3.50! Yes, you read that right. The year is 2015, the place is one of the busiest airports in America, and the client base is one of the most anxious, harried and diverse in the world. And yet, John delivers Five Star Service every day, all day – for $3.50 a pair.

But wait, there’s more. When you watch John as much as I have over the years, you come to know that he is governed by some pretty interesting business practices. Here are my top 10 observations:

  1. He never charges women.
  2. He takes time to greet and offer his service free of charge to every uniformed member of the armed services that passes his stand. Whether or not they take him up on the offer, he thanks them for their service.
  3. He offers his service free of charge to airline personnel. They are his colleagues!
  4. If you are a paying customer and you have a second pair of shoes in your luggage, he will buff them up for free while you are there.
  5. If you are traveling back through the same week, he will clean them up for the weekend.
  6. He asks interesting questions of everyone who sits on his stand. He puts his customers at the center if his world for five minutes at a time. He has met some fascinating people this way.
  7. He knows that a $3.50 shoeshine can make a person feel like a million bucks.
  8. He offers protective shoe storage bags for inside your luggage; not fancy, but functional.
  9. Busy is good! You should see the way he cleans his stand every night.
  10. Brightening a person’s day with a smile costs him nothing. He invests in smiles all day long.

So, why does John do this? Based on his “unit pricing strategy,” money is not his primary motivator. He doesn’t up charge or cross sell. He provides more value-added advice and service than any shoeshine stand I have ever visited. He is a shoe shining genius. The stand has been in the family for years. He considers it a legacy. Prior to working at the stand, he served as a firefighter in New York. He has lived a life of service. He gets it. He realizes that the more he gives, the more he receives.

I have watched his commitment to excellence in client service, and have come to realize that his guiding business principles have paid off in three ways:

  1. His clients leave in a better mood than when they initially sat down in his chair.
  2. The number of repeat clients is astonishing – truly astonishing!
  3. Though never disclosed to me, I have watched both paying and non-paying clients dig a bit deeper in their pockets in appreciation for his amazing client service. I know I have.

Excellent Five Star Client Service is out there – everywhere. How does yours stack up?

Charlie Flood is a consultant with The Rainmaker Companies.