As you may have already surmised, I feel a compulsion to review every business I encounter as I go about my normal, everyday life. I come across businesses of every size in many different industries – all (theoretically) designed to create profit for the owner, employment opportunities for staff, and a product or service for their customers. When I encounter a business that is extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad, it may end up in my latest blog post.
But, every now and then, I come across something that stops me in my tracks and makes me reflect on the bigger picture of life and the positive impact that each of us can have professionally, interpersonally, and in society.
During a long drive from Florida to New England, my husband and I stopped for lunch at a Hardee’s in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s a part of our travel ritual that we stop at Hardee’s for lunch whenever one is available. When we stepped inside, the cashier was not at the counter to take our order because she was helping someone at the drive-thru. The two young men who were working in the kitchen saw us standing there and politely asked what they could make for us. When the cashier returned, she smiled, apologized for keeping us waiting (it was less than 30 seconds) and then entered the order that she had overheard us giving to the cooks. It was excellent service. We got our drinks and sat down to wait for our food to be delivered (yes, fast food that gets delivered to a table!). Aja delivered our food with a smile and made sure that we didn’t need anything else.
Under normal circumstances, I would simply be writing about the positive attitude and exceptional service (not to mention excellent fast food) that we received at this location. I would commend the individuals for being proactive, responsive, and courteous. I would congratulate the manager for running a smooth operation. But what happened next is the real story.
While there were no other customers waiting to be served at the counter, Aja came out to the dining room to do some clean-up and to check with customers to make sure that they had everything that they needed. She stopped at the first table and chatted briefly and amicably with the couple that was there; she wiped down the next table and then stopped at the third table. An older man was there by himself, holding his head in his hands. She asked the man if he needed anything. He shook his head sadly. Instead of just moving on, she sat down across from him and asked him what was wrong and if she could do anything to help. He was visibly upset and told her that he had just come from the hospital where he had been visiting his wife. They had been married for 47 years and she was very ill. Aja sat there and listened. She empathized and offered supporting words, but, most importantly, she was simply there with him. She asked him his name. She treated him with respect. She took the time to care.
When I left the restaurant, Aja was still sitting with Earl. Another customer had come in and someone else took their order while Aja tended to the greater needs of her most important customer, Earl.
Aja did not let her job get in the way of her humanity. She understood that the real meaning of customer service is caring about people. She delivered on the brand promise, went above and beyond, and represented her employer very positively. Comforting downtrodden customers, I’m sure, is not in the job description of a Hardee’s cashier. We all wear many hats: spouse, boss, parent, child, employee, friend, leader. Aja demonstrated that there is one label that supersedes all of these: human being. Our shared humanity transcends all of our differences.
Earl, your heartfelt love emanates from your soul. You opened yourself up to a total stranger in a fast food restaurant and were vulnerable. It was a beautiful glimpse into the universality and connectedness of our human experience. I learned from you.
And to Earl’s unnamed wife, I pray for a speedy recovery and hope that you know that you have the undying love of a wonderful man named Earl and the concern of a woman whom you may never meet named Aja.