The Service Industry Has Gone to $#!&

Here's your sack to go! Photo credit: maclauren70 via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

I’m going to tell you about a man named John Ngo who has revolutionized the way I see customer service. I had the great fortune of being able to observer him working with his “guests” for a couple hours. I say “guests” because though they may have entered as a customers, they left feeling like guests.

In April of 2016, my girlfriend needed some passport photos and she asked me if I know anyone. I said “No, sorry. Google it.” Yeah, I know, I’m a nice boyfriend. She told me she’s doesn’t know who to trust. I told her to look at reviews. I think her and I both know that this conversation could go back and forth for hours. She’s probably aware that eventually I’ll get sick of it and just Google it for her. Yes, she’s that clever. That’s why I love her.

I understand she wants a place that’s high quality and inexpensive. I know, like a unicorn. Almost non-existent. I grabbed her phone and I probably typed in something like “Best Passport photo Toronto” (I retyped it in Google a moment ago to make sure it works). Lo and behold there is a 5 star result from Yelp with 209 reviews (At the time of this writing).

I vaguely remember that I was semi annoyed and most definitely busy doing something else so I wasn’t even that impressed with the number of reviews. I skimmed through some of the reviews and probably said something like “Look: ‘Pictures come out great. John is amazing. Best experience. What a nice guy.’ See? He’s good. Just go to John.” And she probably said something like “Yeah, but…” and then I said “Honey, just go to John”.

I remember the next evening when she came back from visiting John she said “Oh my God! He was so nice and funny and smart and amazing…” And I smiled, feeling accomplished and said, “See? I told you to go John.” Little did I know how amazing the experience actually was.

Fast forward to May 2017. I wanted to take some professional photos for my social networks. I want a professional photo for LinkedIn and something more fashionable for the rest of my profiles. I was looking around at photographers in the area and they were charging large amounts for even one Photoshopped photo. I looked at Groupon but the deals still weren’t good enough. All I want is a little bit of touch ups for a couple of photos. I didn’t want to have a makeover that transforms me into Kim Kardashian.

It seemed unreasonable to me so I said to myself “I guess I’m going call John.” I called him up, he told me the price and I was pleased. I guess especially after hearing the other prices, hearing a number that is half the other numbers sounds like a steal. His prices are good and he has a good reputation. How could I go wrong?

We had arranged to do the photoshoot 2 weeks prior but he became very ill and was unable to make it in to the shop. We stayed in touch a few times until he was finally feeling better and I was available. Throughout this time he was very polite, cheerful, and apologetic. I often try to care about the other person’s situation more than my own. I kept telling him to focus on getting better and we will work together at some point in the future. John later told me that he really appreciated this and I think that’s what helped us connect.

We finally met on Thursday, June 8. The first thing he said to me when I saw him was: “Greg man, So glad to finally see you! I really apologize for the mess. Don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you today.” Whoa! I feel as if I’m reconnecting with a childhood friend I haven’t seen in 20 years! We talked a bit about Barak Obama and his charisma. He showed me some of his work. Actually he showed me a lot of his work. More than just the quality of his work, I could sense the pride he has for his work. Almost cocky, but you know it’s coming from a good place. A place of love and compassion for his fellow human.

We started the shoot after 20 minutes of talking. Not a fast “Wham, bam, thank you m’am!” Kinda of business model, but I’ve grown to appreciate it. He brings in the human touch. I’m sure if I or anyone else were in a rush we could tell him and he’d get to work, but then you’d be missing out. You’d be missing out on a chance to get to know a person who is unique, intelligent, hilarious, and compassionate.

He put on a BBC radio essential mix. Did I mention I love these mixes?! I said to him: “You can never go wrong with EDM. You can always find a genre that someone likes. House, D & B, Jungle… something!” He agreed, started nodding his head to the beat and started to prepare his equipment.

He flowed with the music and did his work like a flair bartender. He said a lot of things, mostly about positioning me for great photos. He was smooth and melodic as if he were speaking through the music. I wish I could remember what he was saying. I was too focused on looking good for the shoot and he helped me with that a lot.

People came and went throughout our shoot. They were all there for passport photos. He would acknowledge their presence, take a few shots with me, and then switch over to finding out what type of passport photo they needed. It was incredible to watch him take something as mundane as passport photos and turn it into an experience. He had his guest laughing, joking, and even high fiving or fist bumping by the end of their visit. I now got a chance to see how he made me feel from a third person perspective. He made each and every one of them feel special, even if it was for just a moment. They all got what they came for and much more.

Some of his jokes were repeated, yet delivered with the timing of a seasoned comedian. Laughter guaranteed. I found myself giggling at the same joke I heard at least 3 times for 3 different guests. Maybe I found it funny just because they were laughing and smiling too. An infectious charm and happiness. It spread, right into my soul.

When he would stop to show me the shots, I noticed that even the ones that looked bad, looked good. He has this indescribable way of bringing the best out of everyone. I really got to appreciate this as I watched him work with the other guests that came trickling in. They looked happy and confused. Confused as to why they felt so good doing something as dreadful as taking passport photos.

At one point, we decided it was time to do a few fun shots. Being the great actor that I am, I started to “fake” laugh about something we spoke about earlier. Next thing I knew, he was talking fast and making jokes and he made my fake laugh turn into a real one. I could not stop laughing. Hard as I tried to reduce my laugh to a giggle, I was unsuccessful. It was an enlightening experience. I had never seen photos of me having that much fun. Simply unforgettable.

I feel I really got to know him in the 3 hours I was there. He educated me on the difference between samurai and ninja. He told me about the true story of the Taj Mahal. We talked about happiness, customer service, connecting with people. I don’t experience these conversations often, but I’m always eternal grateful when I get the opportunity to bond with someone on this level.

At one point he said “I think the service industry has gone to shit. As long as people are giving bad service I’ll always be in business.” I froze in my tracks. I didn’t even realize it until he said it. I’ve thought about it, but I never really had anything to compare it to. Shit customer service is what I get most of the time at most places. Good customer service is what I get sometimes at some places. Great customer service is what John demonstrated on this day.

When I left his shop, 2 hours later than I expected, I gained way more than just an amazing set of photos. I gained a true friend. This is the importance of the value exchange. Thank you John, for making me feel like a friend first and a customer second.

John’s business card

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