Shining Service: 7 Lessons on Customer Service in 7 minutes


I have always believed that every conversation is a learning experience and every person is a teacher. My shoeshine experience today at La Guardia airport is a great example.

I had a few minutes to kill while waiting for my flight to Chicago, so I walked over to the shoeshine stand at the American Airlines terminal next to Gate D1. The shoeshine man introduced himself as John. What attracted me to John was his cheerful banter with his customers as well as passers-by at the airport.


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Here’s what John taught me about customer service:

  • #1 | Make them smile:
    To a lady passing by, John, without even looking at her, exclaimed – “Size 6 and a half. I can tell from the sound of your boots.” He put a smile on her face. He had a joke for every customer and for everyone around him. What a breath of fresh air for stressed passengers on a rainy Friday afternoon at a crowded airport!
  • #2 | Keep them informed:
    I learned from John that Tom Hanks would be shooting a movie about the pilot Scully who landed the US Air plane in the Hudson. I learned about his “sexy work wife” next door who works a concession stand. He was non-stop news, like watching CNN.
  • #3 | Care about your surroundings:
    Someone had spilled coffee on the slippery floor near the shoeshine stand. Without waiting for the cleaners to show up, John excused himself while cleaning my shoes, walked over with paper towels and cleaned up the spill. His comment – “can’t have my customers slipping and falling.”
  • #4 | Reward them for loyalty:
    John’s offer to me: “If you come back with these shoes any time in the next month, I will brush them for you – no charge. I like to take care of my customers.”
  • #5 | Give without expecting returns:
    A man stepped over and saw that there were two people in line. Seeing that he wouldn’t have the time to get his shoes polished, he started to walk away. John called him over and told him to stand with his feet together. In ten seconds, he quickly brushed and polished the man’s shoes and sent him on the way. The man tried to pay a couple of dollars. John’s response – “don’t you dare!”
  • #6 | Have the customer’s best interest at heart:
    A man comes along with a large stain on his shoes, probably from a food spill. John took a look at his shoes and said – “Son, you should not polish these shoes. They need to be cleaned with vinegar and a brush when you get home. I could polish them for you, but the stain would just get hidden and embedded in the leather.” He proceeded to clean the stain, brush the shoes and sent the man on his way. No charge.
  • #7 | Be fair:
    The man before me was so impressed with John’s service that he tried to give him a 12 dollar tip for a 3 dollar shoe shine. John refused and handed 10 dollars back. “Son, I really appreciate your generosity, but just come back and see me again.”

So many profound lessons in customer service in 7 minutes at the shoeshine stand! Next time you are at La Guardia, please see John. When you do, congratulate him for practicing on the ground what we teach in the ivory towers of business school.

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