cookieDid you know? I’m sitting right now in my favorite cafe in Berlin. Which also happens to be my favorite cafe in the world. Favorite!

To the point that were there to suddenly be some completely ridiculous law that from now on cafe-sitting is like marriage, and you have to choose only one that you’ll sit in for the rest of your life — this would be the One.

It’s the one where I always like the music and it’s always at the right volume. Where I always feel completely at home. Where the mirror in the bathroom makes me look fantastic. And where they have the best home-made cookies in town.

Yes, I know, I don’t eat cookies.

But even when you don’t eat cookies, you at least get to successfully convince other people to go out of their way to meet you, because you’ve promised them the best cookies ever . And then they come and of course you were right and everybody’s happy.

But you don’t want to read about my holiday abroad.

And actually I’m sitting here and thinking about “service” and what it means — in business and in general — because that’s the sort of thing I think about.

That elusive something or other

The impossible-to-pin-down je ne sais quoi. Or … das ungewisse Etwas, as we say here in Deutschland.

It can be kind of hard to determine what constitutes “good” service, since what you want and need at any given time tends to vary. And it varies so completely from person to person as well.

In general, of course, you can say that people have “stuff” and they want their “stuff” to be acknowledged and respected, rather than stepped on.

(This is what the Californians call “being sensitive to your needs”, and unfortunately my time in California wasn’t sufficient for me to be able to say this without a little sarcastic edge to the air quotes, but you get the idea.)

Personally the kind of service I tend to like is the “leave me the heck alone, but be there if I need you” variety.

Like in my favoritest-cafe-in-the-world* , where they smile happily at you when you come in and then happily ignore you once you’re settled in.

∗ I know it’s not a word, thank you.

They’ll also wax rhapsodic over which cookies are the best today (hazelnut!) but only if you ask. Suits me perfectly, because I’m more a cat than a dog, if you know what I mean.

But — beyond your personal cat vs. dog preferences — when it comes to being served, there are also some things that are pretty much always good and some things that pretty much always suck.

No schnick schnack, please: things that are good

Today I was at the T-Mobile store because my German cell SIM card stopped working. The guy replaced my card for free, which was awesome.

Then it turned out that in addition to the card issue, there was a phone issue (but more about that in a minute). I was going to have to buy a new phone, preferably a cheapie since I’m only in Germany for a month or so of the year.

The T-Mobile guy was pleasantly insistent that I needed the simplest possible model — without any “schnick-schnack” (what we would call “bells and whistles”) — and he actually ended up sending me to another store a few blocks away where I could get a better deal.

In the end I got a cheap-ass, completely schnick-schnack-free phone, and got to keep my old number as well. Hooray.

But back to things that suck

Turns out that the reason I’m in this absurd phoneless situation to begin with is this:

The people at Motorola, when specifically asked the question, “So which phone will work in Germany with my T-Mobile SIM card?” specifically recommended a phone which doesn’t.

It comes with plenty of schnick-schnack, though. Plenty of ridiculous features that I’ll never use. I didn’t even want this phone, except for the “will work in Germany” part of it.

And the Motorola people got over two hundred dollars because it was important to me that I have a phone that would work in Germany as well as the States, and not have to do what I did today which was buy another phone. As far as I’m concerned, that’s part of the schnick-schnack!

The thing is, it only takes one negative experience to establish the pattern in the brain, which is to associate frustration/annoyance/hurt with what appears to be the cause of it.

Just this week I screwed up with a customer, through a combination of oversight, chaos, poor staff choices and just plain old stuff-falling-through-the-cracks-ness.

Any way you slice it, I was absolutely in the wrong. And even though I can work on doing all sorts of things right, this guy has every right to feel frustrated, upset and disappointed with me.

It’s what Steve Krug calls “mensch points”, and you can lose them pretty darn fast when you’re in the business of serving people, whether in the sense of serving coffee, serving ideas or just caring for people in a deep and personal way.

Ow, right in the insecurity bone!

Actually Mark Silver of Heart of Business does this very cool, very out-there role-playing-style exercise where you physically bow down to your customer in a full prostration. As a way of, among other things, getting in touch (literally!) with the vulnerability of service.

Then the person in customer-mode bows to you, and you get to feel the vulnerability that’s always there when you share your gifts with someone who has given you their trust.

I don’t know if it’s even possible to give you a hint of the deep, visceral, spine-tingly full-body power of this exercise, but that’s what it was. It completely imprinted in my body a sense of protective mama-hen love for my clients and students.

And it gave me a deeper appreciation for anyone who can be with me in my own state of need, and meet me there.

I so wish Motorola would say to me exactly this:

“Wow, that seriously sucks. We misinformed you, it cost you a ton of money, and now you have a useless phone that you never even wanted to begin with *and* you had to buy a new one. Aaargh. We feel terrible about this.”

Haven’t called them yet, but at best they’re likely to say something like “we apologize for any inconvenience”. We shall see.

Because “serving” people is scary

Yeah, it’s scary and it makes you feel vulnerable. Not to mention that usually we’re so deep in our own issues and stucknesses that we can’t even see our customer’s issues and stucknesses.

What I’d really like for my own business is to keep learning more about the scary and the vulnerable, so I can get better at noticing when it’s showing up — whether it’s mine or whether it belongs to someone I care about serving.

Honestly? I want to be able to give out amazing hazelnut cookies to all my clients. And to ask for a hug from Motorola when I want one. And that we all insert the word schnick schnack into conversation as often as humanly possible.

But alas the world doesn’t work that way (yet).

I’m guessing though that the only thing I can really work on is practicing being in service to myself.

You know, noticing what my interactions with others look, sound and feel like on both sides of the equation, so they can be just that much more human — and ideally — as schnick-schnack-free as possible.

Well, at any rate, it’s a start.