Know this – I am a pretty demanding customer. I live and work in the customer service industry, I know what an excellent customer experience looks like and I recognize a poor customer experience pretty well, too. My tolerance for the latter is quite limited but my recognition of the former knows no bounds. My wife and I celebrated our recent anniversary with a long weekend in Las Vegas, a town so well known for customer service that a prominent seller of shoes and customer service legend relocated there in 2004. We spent our days aimlessly wandering up and down South Las Vegas Boulevard with the throngs of others and then an amazing thing happened.
We woke up late on Saturday, July 4th 2015 and emerged to find breakfast. Not too surprisingly the cost of those multi-acre buffets was higher on the holiday weekend so we kept meandering until we spotted an unlikely breakfast venue; The Public House between The Venetian and Palazzo casinos. Being the first patrons when the doors opened at 11:00 am, we made our way to the the most knowledgeable, customer-focused place in any establishment – the bar. Travelers know that a bartender always has a finger on the pulse of the community, knows where the special events and attractions are, and cares about taking advantage of the proximity to his or her customer. A quick glance at the menu and we ordered an amazing poutine appetizer (with an egg on top – breakfast!) and started planning the evening’s festivities.
Our bartender (Bozo – I swear he said, “Like the clown.”) became an active participant in the planning. He asked about our interests and if there was a special occasion (our anniversary actually is on the 4th) and gave some recommendations. In the style of true customer service he pointed us to some places and things not in the hotel he was working in and confirmed some of what others had told us about some amazing foodie destinations (Travel tips – The Public House is a foodie destination (yelp voted best gastropub in Las Vegas) and several people told us that the best steak in Las Vegas is at Circus Circus!). Then he introduced us to the bar manager, Freddy. Freddy came over and spent quite some time talking about the bar and some of the unique things they do like barrel aging their cocktails, all very interesting (and tasty) stuff, and that is when the magic happened. Yes, to that point it was a great experience, one that I would have gladly shared as excellent. And it got better.
Freddy told us his story. He shared that he was on the crew that opened The Mirage Hotel and Casino in November of 1989. I won’t get into too much gory detail but will say that The Mirage was the first of what is now the iconic Vegas hotel/casino. The vision of Steve Wynn to take such a bold leap truly changed the future of Las Vegas. And Freddy told us all that, too. He virtually gushed with pride about his role as a valet, in the launch, about the investment in the staff that included almost complete uniforms, full medical benefits, a very competitive salary, and even hotel quality dining facilities for the staff instead of leftover buffet food. He was beaming when he described Mr. Wynn’s pre-launch speech to the 10,00 or so customer service professionals who staffed the facility and instilled in them that pride of ownership of the customer experience and the momentous impact they were going to have on the entertainment industry and Las Vegas itself. And he described that staff meeting in 1989 like it had happened that morning. Freddy even told us that his mother is still a chef at The Mirage and that he himself has opened every new hotel that Steve Wynn has since.
I have had the honor of leading people in a few different industries and I continue to do so today. If even one person holds me in the regard that Freddy holds Steve Wynn, I am truly humbled. The real lesson here for all of us, leaders or not, in whatever industry, is that the experience your customer has depends on your ability to create and maintain a culture where those who interact directly with that customer feel the ownership that translates into taking care of the customer. That is creating a customer experience through passion and connection, through leadership and empowerment.
We sat at that bar for over 2 hours, talking like old friends with people we had just met and may never see again and then we went back later that night for our anniversary dinner. I will never return to Las Vegas without visiting The Public House, I will ask about Bozo when I am there, and I will keep an eye on Steve Wynn’s plans to see where Freddy may be.