Friday, March 17, 2023

I Got You

The Power of Observation and Prediction in Customer Service

When colleagues visit Chicago, the first stop is usually downtown. I'm proud of the city and a walk from North Clark or along Michigan Ave reinforces that: tourists on their way to "The Bean," the start of Route 66 (America's Highway) across the street from the Art Institute, the striking orchestra musicians playing outside Symphony Hall just down the street from the bucket drummers, and Frank Gehry's band shell falling apart in frozen motion. But, as you've undoubtedly heard me say, "When it comes to Chicago, the joy is in the neighborhoods." That's true of the music venues, but also of the inland parks, and, of course, the restaurants. avec may have a location downtown, but if you want the best risotto you've ever had, you gotta find the little Italian place tucked so inconspicuously across the street from a Tastee-Freez ice-cream stand at the edge of Humboldt Park.

A few weeks ago, Peggy met some friends for drinks at Lula Cafeone of my all-time favorites in our neighborhood – on a plain ol' Thursday night. She hadn't expected it, but the place was packed. Lula is such a unique, wonderful, community-centric spot, though, that in retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise to see a crowd, especially as pandemic restrictions and concerns have eased. On entering the restaurant, she scanned the room for an open table – none were obviously available – then nudged her way over toward the bar figuring that she might be able to turn the two open seats into small space for three friends to visit. A few minutes later, a staff member from Lula – having spied Peggy's predicament – caught her eye and, like magic, said: "You lookin' for a table for three?" Peggy nodded. The astute Lula employee said: "I got you," then led her across the restaurant to an open table. I see you. I get you. I got you. Problem solved.

So, how did this perfect, little, meaningful customer service moment happen to happen at Lula Cafe on a cold Thursday night in February? The answer is easy: This happens every night at Lula Cafe; Peggy just happened to wander into it. Good companies, good restaurants, and good people read the room, practice prediction in these moments, trusting in the power of their intuition and observation, and looking for the opportunity reach out when they can know they can be helpful. The next time a client shows up with an impossible design challenge, or a last minute change request, or seems hesitant and uncertain, I'll remember the power and impression left by those three simple, definitive words: "I got you."

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon writes on music, business, and creativity at