Customer Service: When You Hear Spaghetti, Don’t Serve Veal

I am pleased to welcome writer Pattie Roberts as the guest blogger for this post. Her thought-provoking personal stories serve up many lessons. Welcome back Pattie!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Uncle Fritz lately.  Every spring, as I begin the early garden cleanup, I see the coffee can “Tin Man” he made for me hanging next to the rose bed, and it makes me laugh and cry at the same time.  I laugh because Uncle Fritz was a delightful nutball – wildly successful as an insurance agent, devoted to my Aunt Franny throughout her long battle with breast cancer, and truly offbeat in the way he expressed himself.

I cry because he was the definitive example of the one key thing that continues to be broken about customer service in American business.  I cry even more when I think about how simple it is to fix it.

Customer Service: Does Caring Block Good Listening? Image courtesy of: Darktek13

The Story

Let me back up to 1987.  My mother had just passed away and, as is typical in many families (especially Italian families like mine), we shared our grief over mountains of food.  One evening we were at dinner at Ventura’s, which to this day remains my favorite restaurant.  As usual, Uncle Fritz presided over the table and made his recommendation for our entrée choices.  “Try the veal,” he exhorted, and everyone but me agreed.

I hadn’t had a good plate of spaghetti and meatballs in a while, and that’s what I wanted.  Besides, I don’t eat baby things.  Like veal.  It’s a quirk, I know, but it is what it is, and it doesn’t really affect anyone but me, so I don’t see it as something I need to ‘fix’.  “You should really try the veal,” he said to me as I was making my final selection from the menu.  Non-sequitur:  as I write this, I am really wishing for some Ventura’s spaghetti and meatballs.

Anyway, I try not to be confrontational over small issues (how could my food preferences possibly matter to anyone but me?), so I said something like “I’m sure it’s delicious but I am really jonesing for spaghetti and meatballs.”  After a couple more exchanges like this we ordered – veal for everyone else, my beloved spaghetti for me.  “Did you order the veal?” Fritz asked me.  Fortunately Aunt Rose interrupted with a glowing anticipatory review of the much-vaunted veal so I didn’t have to answer – again.

This is what happened when our orders arrived.   Uncle Fritz:  “You didn’t get the veal?”  Me:  “I’m really happy with my spaghetti.”  Uncle Fritz: “Here, try a piece” Me:  “No, really, save it for yourself, I’m going to have enough trouble eating all this yummy pasta.”  Uncle Fritz (cutting a big chunk of veal and putting it on my plate):  “Try the veal.”  Me (on the verge of an aneurism): “I don’t want the veal! I don’t like veal! It’s BABY COW! It’s bad enough that we eat grown up cows, we don’t need to eat the BABIES too! Take this off my plate!”  Uncle Fritz (to my father):  “What, she doesn’t eat meat?”

So what does any of this have to do with customer service?  If I am the customer, and Uncle Fritz is the CSR, why in the name of all that’s holy didn’t he listen?  He was sweet throughout the entire exchange, he was never snippy or mean, and he was paying for everyone’s dinner.

I had nothing to complain about except the fact that I was benignly but completely ignored.  He wanted to make me happy, but he was rooted in his own idea of what that was, and oblivious to mine.

I think about veal, Ventura’s, and Uncle Fritz every time a CSR tries to talk me into or out of something I want or need.  Being pleasant, concerned-sounding, and even generous is important, but it’s not enough.

Customer service has to be grounded in listening before anything meaningful can take place between the customer and the company.  Even if the veal is scrumptious.

Some questions to ponder:
– Does passion and caring block good listening?
– Is it caring if the CSR isn’t listening?
– How can we balance passion and listening?

©2012 Pattie Roberts. If you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Guest blogger, Pattie Roberts, is a writer and research analyst in Annapolis MD. You can follow her on Twitter @hughsboo or on LinkedIn.

3 Responses to “Customer Service: When You Hear Spaghetti, Don’t Serve Veal”

  1. Khalid says:


    Nice story Pattie 🙂

    You really got my attention!

    That exactly what happens to my wife when she enters into a shop and she get annoyed by persistent sales reps trying to help her! My wife likes to look around the shop first before asking for help!

    When this happens she immediately leave the place!

    So I can clearly match your experience with this!

    If they have read this the first time in my wife face they would have avoided losing a customer!

    Thanks Kate for introducing me to Pattie Who I’m following now 🙂


  2. Pattie Roberts says:

    Thank you Khalid! I sympathize with your wife – what she says it so true! There is something so frustrating about not being heard, and people do vote with their feet 🙂 Thanks for sharing, and happy Thursday!

  3. Mark Copeman says:

    Kate – just discovered your blog via a friend.

    “Customer service has to be grounded in listening before anything meaningful can take place between the customer and the company”

    This is such an awesome quote and is now on my wall. It sums up everything we’re working on here at Customer Thermometer I guess. We hear anecdotal stories most days from our customers about the sorts of things which are happening to them through asking a VERY simple question, and then listening for the answer.

    Whilst our tool can help facilitate this listening, the next part of the equation, which is outside of our control, is what people then do, once they’ve listened.

    Look forward to reading more.

    Best wishes,

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