Thursday, November 25, 2010

Seeking Perfection

I consider Seattle, WA one of my favorite cities and have visited nearly a dozen times over the years.  I recently visited a close friend who lives in Seattle and was able to experience new adventures and visit establishments that I have never been to before.  One of my standout experiences was visiting the Zig Zag Cafe.

A little history on the Zig Zag Cafe before I share my experience.  The Zig Zag is regarded as having the best bartenders in the Seattle area.  Becoming a head bartender is really an apprenticeship that comes to age with mentoring and patience - not rushed and no shortcuts.  In fact, rumor has it that the #2 bartender in Seattle who worked at a competing bar and was revered by local cocktail connoisseurs, quit to join the team at Zig Zag.  He did not pour a cocktail the first year he worked there.  If you are familiar with Zig Zag you likely recognize the name Murray.  Murray has earned the recognition as one of America's Top 10 Bartenders.  Unfortunately I was not able to meet Murray or observe his craft.  Instead, Eric was bar tending the evening I visited.  Eric is one of Murray's apprentices and like any Jedi in training, eventually the Jedi becomes a master.

From the moment we entered the cafe, Eric became aware of our presence while he was preparing someones drink.  A quick look up to acknowledge me and my friend.  As the host escorted us to the bar my friend mentioned to me that it had been over a year since he had stopped into the Zig Zag.  The moment we sat down Eric had placed a glass of ice water with napkin in front of each of us and said, "Good evening gentlemen.  It's been a while since we've seen you Mr. Gates [referring to my friend]."  Eric and my friend exchanged pleasantries and I was introduced.  Eric asked, "What would you like this evening?"  My friend replied, "I'll have the usual." - testing Eric's memory.  Eric did not miss a beat and confirmed, "Ketel One straight up."  While this impressive display of memory was playing out, the wait staff were coming up to the bar from three different locations and placing orders with Eric for the dozens of tables they were serving.  The coming and going of the wait staff was like watching bees arrive at their hive, make a deposit, then depart to search for more pollen.  Eric was also calmly looking to his left and right to ensure the patrons sitting at the bar were satisfied.

As we sat enjoying our martini's and took in the ambiance, Eric prepared dozens and dozens of drinks with a precision I have never witnessed before.  Every, literally every, drink prepared was tested at least once before leaving the bar.  Eric would use a cocktail straw and his finger tip to cap the end of the straw (this traps the liquid in the straw), remove it from the cocktail and drink the contents of the straw.  He would then approve the drink and pass it to the waiter for delivery or he would make an adjustment to the drink so it tasted perfect.  Most of the time the adjustment was a drop, or two, of one of the ingredients that was required to make the perfect balance.  After each adjustment he would place a new cocktail straw into the drink and test it again.  On rare occasion (of the 100+ drinks I watched him make he did this once) he would pour the drink out and start over.  Again, as Eric's attention to the smallest detail would appear all consuming he still would engage with the patrons.  Looking up at us, "Mr. Gates, I don't think any one's order Louis since you last visited."  At this moment someone from behind the bar needed Eric's attention and pulled him away for a brief conversation.  When Eric returned my buddy said, "My friend's visiting from out of town so let's have two."  Eric grabbed two cognac snifters and began preparing our glasses that would contain the cognac.  First he filled two tumbler glasses with hot water and then set the snifters of cognac on their side on top of the tumbler so the Louis would warm up.  As he was doing this my friend asked Eric if they have any Port Ellen and in a blink Eric had grabbed a bottle (8th Release) from the shelf and placed it in front of us while continuing to prepare our drinks.  Eric asked if I had tried the Port Ellen and I answered no to which he poured me a complimentary taste of the $400 bottle of scotch.  As I enjoyed the Port Ellen I watched Eric complete the heating ritual and present our glasses of cognac.

What inspired me the most about Eric was watching someone who is dedicated to their craft and seeks perfection.  His awareness, memory, precision, attention to detail, multitasking, focus and passion were astonishing to watch.  It truly was like watching a professional athlete do their thing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Customer Relationships

Have you ever struggled with the issue of professional contact with customers from a previous job?  If you have, you are not alone.  Over the past 16 years of my career, I have worked directly with a customer base or managed others who have a customer base.  I have witnessed employees voluntarily and involuntarily resign and then struggle with how to professionally stay in touch with their customer base.  This becomes a challenge if your prior employer views your interest of wanting to stay in touch with old clients as an attempt to solicit them to follow you to the new company, often a competitor, that you are working for.

The divided view on this topic can be generalized as such:
Company's Position: The customers belong to the company.  The reason an individual was able to have a successful business partnership with their customers was due to resources provided by the company and the delivery of any services or products was the result of the company - not an individual.  i.e. the company's brand in the market place has value and the company's business tools (brochures, business cards, website, etc...) aided in capturing the customer's business.  If the individual employee resigns - the company will replace them and service continues uninterrupted.
Employee's Position: The customers have a relationship with the individual employee and that is a result of personality, commitment, and ability to gain the customer's trust.  If the customer chooses to stay in touch or follow the employee to another business - that is the customer's choice.  Some employees feel it is appropriate to directly contact their customer's and inform them of where they will be going to work.

Often there are non-solicit agreements between employees and employers that spell out the "do's" and "dont's" of interacting with previous customers over a specific period of time (typically 12 months).

My recommendation is to be ethical and adhere to any contract you agreed to.  At all costs do not burn a bridge, even if you completely disagree with the former employer.  At the same time, I recognize business contacts (former customers) are a crucial component to success and starting over can be time consuming.  I recommend using a business social media tool to establish a neutral connection that gives you access to your contacts without having to solicit them.  For example;
I suggest choosing one.  I have accounts with all three and although there are differences, basically they are all the same.  I find I use LinkedIn the most.  In my opinion this is a neutral meeting point for people that want to network.  Although your relationship may have initiated through a previous employer, you have something new to offer an old customer.