Last week, I had an opportunity to visit Florida. The comfort of good friends and the warm weather made for a welcome respite from Boston storms that seem to be the order this winter.
But this trip was different. It was an awakening to excellent service – far beyond the ordinary. It was the discovery that total professional service can create an experience that will not be forgotten.
Great service, extraordinary service, can not be taught, it must be learned through experience.
My experience on a day of fishing made me think about how lucky I have been in the past to have worked with people who excel in service. Once upon a time, I might have taken that kind of service for granted. Not any longer.
It was 6 a.m. in the Florida Keys, about a year ago. A friend and I were cruising down US 1, carefully keeping the car at the 45-mph speed limit, on our way to fish in the “backcountry.” The eastern sky was glowing gold, sandwiched between thin clouds and the ocean horizon. Palm trees stood silhouetted along the shore. We were already in short sleeves. We both know that this was starting out to be a good day.
When we turned arrived at Bud n’ Marys Fishing Marina in Islamorada, the sun had just emerged from behind the ocean and cast long shadows across the harbor. I just didn’t realize how good a day this was to become.
Richard Stanczyk, his nose already covered with a thick coating of sun block, thrust out his hand to greet us. He pointed to a small 16-foot boat. He had already loaded a few coolers and a collection of rods and reels.
“Let’s go,” he snapped. And we stepped off the dock into Stanczyk’s world. It is a world that he loves and a world that he loves to share with others.
The boat slapped across the small waves headed away from the sun, under a bridge, past a string of telephone poles planted in the bay, through narrow mangrove-lined waterways, and into the Florida Bay.
Stanczyk knew every inch of this aquatic backcountry. We were here to learn about fishing, but along the way, we learned about islands made up of only mangrove trees, ocean grasses, shifting sandbanks and birds – lots of birds. He pointed out cormorants, brown pelicans, white pelicans with black underwings, egrets, herons, ibis, osprey, hawks, turkey vultures, terns, and gulls Every bird had a story. Every bird had a place in Stanczyk’s world.
We bounced rhythmically across the shallow waters for about an hour. Past low-lying islands that all had cryptic names and stories; past flocks of pelicans standing on sandbars; past stands of sea grass.
Stanczyk every so often would stand up at the small boat’s helm and squint across the blue waters, adjust direction a bit, then sit, and the boat would resume its hypnotic thwack, thwack, thwack across the riffles on the bay.
Stanczyk cut the engine and the boat floated into position between a mound of tall ocean grass and a sandbar. He grabbed a long pole and jammed it into the sandy ocean bed and tied our boat to the pole. Again, he silently surveyed the small channel, watched the currents, then pulled out a rod and reel and dug into one of the coolers for bait.
“We had good luck here yesterday,” he said. “It should be pretty good today as well.”
Before we did anything, he showed us our equipment and he explained that this was light fishing gear. He assured us that if we didn’t learn to play the fish properly, the line would snap.
He baited a hook and cast the bait across 40 feet of water to the other side of the channel beside the sea grass. As the bait began to slowly sink he handed me the rod.
“Hold it like this, put your finger here, then reel in the line a bit, stop, then reel again,” he instructed. “And be ready, there are redfish out there.”
You could see his eyebrows arch above his sunglasses. “When one hits that bait, you’ll have a fight on your hands,” he concluded.
I waited. Reeled a bit. Waited. Reeled a bit.
The only sounds were the water lapping against the boat, the birds calling, the wind rushing through the low grass and the smooth clicking of the spinning reel.
Wait. Reel, Wait. Reel.
All of a sudden, the rod jerked down. I pulled up. Got one!
Stanczyk sprung into action, “Hold him steady. Don’t let the line slack. Let him run a bit. See if you can gain a little on him. Easy does it. Bring him closer. Closer.” Stanczyk leans over the side of the boat and comes up with a 16-inch redfish.
“Good job Charlie,” he acknowledged as he unhooked the fish and threw it back into the bay. “Not bad for the first cast.”
The rest of the afternoon only got better. We caught sea trout, pinfish, ladyfish and more redfish. Again, as with the birds, every fish had a story and a special place in the Florida Bay backcountry.
Later, when Stanczyk suggested that we try for some “big stuff,” my friend ended up catching about a 100-pound bull shark. I caught a 60-pound nurse shark. It was a day with a spinning reel I would never forget.
Here was a fishing guide who made the experience enjoyable and educational from the moment we set foot in his boat. He enchanted us across the flats and through mangrove islands to the fishing area, and back to the docks. Stanczyk’s persona is experienced knowledge coupled with a love for life and an innate understanding of how to share that zest. This is what exceptional service is all about.
No wonder Stanczyk is a legend.
The Other End of the Customer Service Spectrum. Just last week, my friend and I headed out to learn about deep-sea fishing. This time we had the opposite customer service experience.
Again, we went out with a recommended captain. It wasn’t quite the same – this turned out to be the nadir of customer service.
The first questions from the mate in charge of fishing set the tone. “What rods and reels do you want to use?” he asked.
We didn’t know.
“Do you want to go bottom fishing or go for yellowfins?”
“What’s the difference?” we asked.
“Well, here one of you take one for yellow fins and the other can bottom fish.”
That was about it. When I asked about bait, the crew said, “Take your pick”
When asked what bait was used to catch which fish, they handed me a small fish with a toothpick-like nose and told me this would do. I didn’t get much help for the rest of the day. The captain ended up sleeping in his chair on the bow of the boat for almost the entire afternoon.
Neither of us caught a fish after six hours bobbing on the ocean waves.
I was disappointed with the day and amazed at the lack of assistance. Maybe I expected too much. However, both my friend and I were clearly novices and could have used some help.
A little basic customer service may have created a future customer. The lack of service has guaranteed that I won’t be paying for that experience again.