By Emy Brubacher
I just returned from an amazing vacation to Turkey. While visiting with my Turkish friends, one person commented on the decline in customer service and how the larger chain operations coming into Istanbul did not seem to be impressing on their employees the concept that the “customer comes first”. Perhaps it is true of the chains in the larger cities but being I was fortunate enough to experience Turkey on the "local level" I personally got quite the opposite impression.
While taking a break from museum hopping and market scrounging in Istanbul, my friend and I stopped for a Turkish coffee and a game of backgammon, a popular Turkish pastime, at a locally owned place. While there we decided we should have a quick bite. Unfortunately, the café we had chosen was a hookah café, and only served drinks and the exotic Turkish pipe. However, without hesitating, the waiter asked what we would like to eat. Within 10 minutes he had a young boy delivering a giant stuffed potato from one vendor on the block and a fabulous toasted sandwich from another. We paid the delivery boy directly, so the cafe owner did not get a cent from the transaction.
An isolated event? Even if it were, I would have been impressed. However, earlier in the week I had been in Datca, a beautiful, laid back resort area in southeastern Turkey. The small town, frequented mainly by resident tourists, is still mostly comprised of small, locally owned business.
After a fabulous lunch of a local favorite, çiğ börek we lounged, as the Turkish often do, over a cup of tea. Craving a bit of a sweet to round out our meal, we asked the server if they had dessert. Unfortunately, being a small café, they only served the Turkish meat pastry. However, without blinking an eye, the server pulled out his phone while asking what we would like. Within moments, he had called up his “friend” who ran a dessert café down the street. After a short wait, a server from the neighbouring business ran in with our desserts. Without pestering us, our server paid the deliverer, plated the dessert and set it out before us.
By now I was pretty amazed. Not only was this café allowing food from another place into their establishment, but they actually arranged it for us. I then learned, that only the cost of the dessert was added to our bill, no extra delivery charges or mark ups. When I commented how impressed I was, my friends laughed. In their culture it was just common sense; give the customer what they want. By doing this the business owner gains customer loyalty while fellow businesses also benefit.
The top the experience? While we were eating dessert, one of our servers had disappeared on his scooter only to reappear a few minutes later with a wrapped package. While we were eating lunch, he had learned that our youngest diner was celebrating her 5th birthday the next day. He had run out to the local market and picked up a small gift, a ceramic piggy bank. Although it must have only cost a few lira, the smile the little girl’s face and the tears in her mom’s eyes left me speechless.
Maybe this seems a little excessive, but as I thought about it, what did it really cost these people? A 30 second phone call, an extra plate or two to wash and 5 lira? In exchange they have guaranteed that the next time I am in Turkey, I know where I am going to be spending my money.