Even though it was a while back, I still remember a lunch I had at an airport restaurant. It was a mediocre chain restaurant with a bland menu and a charmless décor. There was nothing special about the place. My grandfather would have declared it “dime a dozen.” Yet something happened at that restaurant and I had an amazing experience.

On another business trip, I hailed a yellow cab at the curb. It was a run-of-the-mill Chevrolet late model sedan taxi well past its prime. There was nothing special about this cab, yet something happened in that car and I had an amazing experience. What was the common denominator that turned these mundane visits into something worth writing about? Customer centricity.

At the restaurant, the hostess that sat me showed genuine interest in my upcoming travels and related her own travels to mine. “Oh I love San Francisco, I have a very good friend that lives there and I always have such a fun time there.” She was otherworldly. While I’m sure she was tired after a long shift, she seemed to have an uncanny ability to read me as well as her other customers, and decide who needed and wanted more attention and who wished to be left alone.

She took the time to listen, to observe, but was also willing to take a stand and not just the path of least resistance (“I don’t recommend the Reuben here, it’s just not our specialty. The ribs however, fabulous!”). She was at the table when I needed her and vaporized when I did not. She was bubbly and chatty to those who engaged with her, and efficient and succinct to those who did not.

It was clear to me that she cared deeply how her customers experienced this restaurant, even if the outcome in reality had little bearing on her personally.

In the cab, the situation was not dissimilar. When he pulled up to the curb, the driver seemingly sprinted from his seat to grab my bags and load them into the trunk. He was curious about my travels and, when asked, eager to tell me a bit about his journey as well. He seemed excited to be doing his job and the joy and appreciation he communicated was genuine.

When I reflect back on these experiences, I’m struck by the notion that regardless of what we do in life, from the board room to the mail room, we have a chance and a choice – a chance to excel at what we do and a choice to put our heart and soul into delivering something of real value to those we serve.

We can make a difference to our customers by thinking through what matters to them, by putting ourselves in their shoes, and by focusing on how we can help create a better experience for them.

I am inspired by that waitress and by that cab driver. We should all aspire to be more like them.

At Compile, this means being keen students of demand generation and sales development so that we can understand the challenges that our customers face at the experiential level. It also means working closely with our customers to ensure that they not only get every bit of value possible from our service, but also benefit from our curated knowledge of empirical best practices and our collective customer portfolio.

What are you doing to make sure your business stands out with your customers?

Editor’s note: This is an edited version of a previous post, which was published on 17 July 2014.