The alarm went off at 4 a.m. — an early wake-up call on vacation — but we had to catch some fish for my daughter’s wedding dinner. About a year ago she announced that she and her soon-to-be husband wanted to get married on the beach in La Paz, Mexico. She had arranged this little fishing excursion so we could serve fresh fish at her wedding.
La Paz is an off-the-beaten-path little town about 100 miles north of Cabo San Lucas on the Sea of Cortez. If you haven’t heard of it before, you’re not alone—neither had we.
Fourteen of us — including my daughter — were on the water taxi at 5 a.m. headed for the van that would take us to our seven small fishing boats for a day of hunting marlin and dorado (mahi mahi in Hawaii).
I’ll freely admit to a little trepidation looking at just how small the boat was, but our able captain Martin, deftly took us out into the open water while he rigged and dropped our lures.
Other than some basic greetings, I spoke no Spanish and he spoke no English. Fortunately, my son Steve spoke a little Spanish and we got acquainted as we started our adventure. After spending eight hours on the boat together cobbling together the Spanish we knew and the English he knew, I discovered those things we shared in common were greater than our differences.
From the outside, it could have appeared that Martin was nothing more than a local fisherman, but that would be mistake. He’s a pretty savvy entrepreneur. And, I can think of dozens of small businesses I regularly patronize that could learn a thing or two about customer service from my new friend.
1. The first thing I met was his smile: It didn’t matter that aside from a few pleasantries (I already mentioned I didn’t speak much Spanish and he spoke even less English), I liked Martin from the start. It was obvious he was happy to be there, was happy to have us join him in his boat and he was going to do everything he could to make sure we had a good time and caught some fish. Sometimes, as a customer, I’ve felt like a distraction. I’m sure the employees who made me feel that way didn’t intend to, but nonetheless they did. It was obvious by Martin’s manner that my son and I were the focus of the expedition that day.
2. Your brand is who you are, not who you say you are: My daughter made the reservation for our fishing trip with an outfitter who was originally from Canada. I’m sure we were a big group for him. I’m sure he didn’t have a fleet of seven fishing boats. I’d be surprised if he had more than one. So to accommodate our group, he contracted with locals. Our captain was part of a family of four or five boats operated by his cousins, brother-in-law, and maybe a nephew or two — all were part of the seven. They were a great example of very small businesses working together to compete with bigger outfitters. When I asked him who was the “patron” or boss, he said, “Today it is my brother-in-law, but most days it’s me.” On the return trip to La Paz, when I asked the rest of the group about their experience, everyone had the same experience we did. I’m sure the outfitter chose the boats based upon his experience with them (and their brand) and the recommendation of Martin’s “patron” for the day. Your brand follows you, whether you’re the Capitan of an 18-foot open fishing boat or the owner of a local bookstore on the corner.
3. No skunk: It was a tough day to be on the water. None of the boats were doing very well the first part of the day. Sometime before noon I asked, “Martin, have you ever been skunked?” He said, “No skunk!” He tried a couple of different things while we dozed in and out of consciousness in the June sunshine — at least until the reel whined and Steve started to fight with a 30-pound dorado. It was a beautiful fish. About twice as big as the one I caught an hour or so later. I noticed that Martin and the other fishermen were on the radio talking about who was catching fish and where they were. Later, on the beach as Martin was deftly slicing our catch into fillets for the wedding dinner, Martin smiled and reminded me, “No skunk.” Martin is a lot like my dad. Growing up working in my dad’s small business I watched how he treated our customers. If he couldn’t help someone, he told them who could, would give them a phone number, and even an address where they could go — after he did everything he could to help them himself. Sometimes good customer service means you help a customer find what they are looking for someplace else. It might also mean getting a little help from a fellow fisherman.
My visit to La Paz was great. And, everyone there knows how to treat visitors right. The shuttle drivers, the guys who piloted the water taxi and everyone who either served us dinner or scooped the ice cream cones (we enjoyed as the sun set each night) seemed to know what Martin knew. It really doesn’t take much to provide great customer service — a smile and consistently doing what’s best for the customer.
Would I go back to La Paz again? What do you think?
A Main Street business evangelist and marketing veteran with 25 years in the trenches, Ty Kiisel writes about small business finance issues for lendio.com and is author of the book, "Getting a Business Loan: Financing Your Main Street Business."