During a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio, I stumbled upon a remarkable example of how businesses can genuinely connect with their customers, not just through their products but through extraordinary service and unexpected surprises. This experience offered a clear lesson in the power of empowered employees and thoughtful marketing.

A Breakfast Worth Waiting For

It all started with a restaurant called North Star, that we decided to try one morning. As we approached, the long queue stretching to the door initially seemed daunting. Remarkably, the line moved quickly, and within five minutes, it was our turn to order.

North Star surprised us with its free seating policy—a welcome change from the typical restaurant practice of assigning tables. Given the crowd, we braced ourselves for a lengthy wait. However, we only waited about 20 minutes for our food, a reasonable delay considering the bustling environment.

The best part of the experience came when our meals were served. Along with our dishes, we were presented with vouchers for three free entrees for our next visit, a thoughtful gesture that transformed our satisfactory visit into an unforgettable dining experience.

As we chatted with the bartender about the business and local specialties, he served us two complimentary enormous 6-inch cookies, a sweet surprise that perfectly complemented our lively conversation.

An Unbelievable Return Visit

Still reveling in the morning’s warmth, we decided to return to North Star for dinner the same day. Remarkably, the $20++ entrees for the three of us were completely free, thanks to the vouchers. It was hard to believe—the generosity of the restaurant seemed to know no bounds.

As we enjoyed our meal, the waitress encouraged us to visit again the following day, hinting at another special promotion. Intrigued, we returned on Earth Day, April 22, 2024. True to their word, North Star offered a free vegetable burger. What made this offer even more special was that no additional purchase was necessary. It was a gesture of goodwill, allowing us to simply enjoy the meal in the spirit of the day.

The dedication of North Star to create a memorable dining experience was evident when we saw the day’s special printed right on the menu—a thoughtful touch that celebrated the occasion. We even took a photo of the menu to capture this unique moment, a testament to their commitment to both their patrons and the planet.

Empowerment at the Heart of Customer Service

North Star’s commitment to customer satisfaction is deeply embedded in their philosophy of empowering employees to make decisions that enhance the customer experience. This practice is pivotal in building trust and loyalty and is a strategy adopted by some of the world’s most renowned service-oriented businesses.

For instance, the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain is famous for allowing its staff up to $2,000 to ensure a guest has a great experience. This policy was highlighted by Horst Schulze, co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., who shared an inspiring story about empowerment in action. A guest had forgotten his laptop in his hotel room and only realized this after flying to Hawaii for an important meeting. Upon receiving the panicked call, the housekeeper who found the laptop didn’t hesitate. Understanding the urgency, she flew to Hawaii with the laptop, delivered it directly to the guest, and returned on the next available flight.

This story vividly illustrates the profound impact of empowering employees. At North Star, similar principles are in play. Staff members are encouraged to act at their discretion to ensure customer happiness, whether it’s by offering a free meal or cookies, or going out of their way to celebrate a customer’s special day. It’s this level of dedication and autonomy that not only creates unforgettable experiences but also turns first-time guests into lifelong patrons.

The Genuine Impact of Generosity

At North Star, the free vegetable burger offered on Earth Day is a strategic investment in marketing through generosity. The cost of the burger is minor compared to the genuine word-of-mouth and customer loyalty it generates. This approach to customer service demonstrates that sometimes, the best advertising isn’t a billboard or a social media blitz—it’s a simple act of kindness.

I couldn’t stop talking about them. Our experiences at North Star moved us to leave a genuine 5-star review on Google, not out of obligation but because they truly earned it with their exceptional service and sincerity. It’s important to note that there was no need for an incentive to write positively about them. Their actions spoke louder than any promotional offer could.

In fact, I felt compelled to write this article, celebrating their commitment to service, at no cost to them. This is quite the departure from my usual posts about a business, which are often sponsored and come with a hefty price tag for the feature. It goes to show that when a business truly invests in making customers feel valued, the return can surpass any conventional marketing spend.

Applying Similar Strategies in My Own Business

Inspired by North Star’s approach to customer service, I’ve implemented similar principles in my own business endeavors. Understanding the value of directly rewarding our clients and customers, I’ve developed promotional strategies that not only incentivize engagement but also enhance their learning and personal finance management.

Free eBook Series: I offer a series of four eBooks at no cost. These books are designed to help readers navigate various aspects of personal finance, providing them with valuable tools and insights to improve their financial literacy. It even comes with a no-time-wasted guarantee.

Debt Domination Course: Participants in this course receive RM100 upon completion. This initiative not only motivates individuals to take control of their debt but also rewards them for their commitment to improving their financial health.

Money Hacks Program: For those who enroll and pass the assessment in our Money Hacks program, we refund their enrollment fee. Additionally, we provide a RM200 skill-credit as a further incentive. This credit can be used towards any of our other courses, encouraging continuous learning and development.

By empowering our customers and providing them with tangible rewards, we aim to create a positive and impactful experience that mirrors the satisfaction and loyalty generated by exceptional service practices like those at North Star.

Rethink Your Marketing: Beyond the Norm

This experience has reinforced a crucial business lesson: investing in customer happiness can yield substantial returns. These returns come not just in the form of direct revenue but through word-of-mouth, repeat business, and customer loyalty. As entrepreneurs, if we focus on great products and pair them with excellent execution and empower our teams, we set ourselves up not just to meet expectations but to exceed them.

In conclusion, as much as this trip was about enjoying the sights and tastes of Columbus, it turned into a valuable business insight trip. It’s a reminder that sometimes, the best marketing isn’t just about how much money you can spend but about how much value you can create for your customers.


Personal finance author and trainer

    2 replies to "What Happens When Businesses Put Customers Before Profits?"

    • Amiel R. Aberilla

      Good insight, indeed. Thank you sir!

      • KCLau

        Thanks for posting the very first comment here. It is wonderful to see a business well run.

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