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Networking, Friendship, the Lasting Value of Customer Service and a Story that Begins on 9/11

If you are over the age of 25, you likely remember exactly where you were and what you were doing on the morning of September 11th, 2001. I was on a plane that landed at Boston’s Logan Airport early that morning. At 8:45 am, the world changed forever, and most definitely not for the better. Out of all the loss, sadness, and destruction, I try to carve out a little slice of humanity that I keep with me to this day.

If you are looking this week for one of my more traditional articles that gives you “10 tips to win the interview” or “4 ways to nail your elevator pitch”, you will be disappointed. But if you are willing to read on, you might learn a little bit about networking, friendship, the lasting value of customer service, and the beauty and grace of work done well. As we approach the 18th anniversary of 9/11, I wanted to share this story.

I drove home from Boston that evening as civilian air traffic would be on hold for the next two days. It would be the following week before I could resume my weekly flight to Boston.

So, one week later, I found myself in a nearly deserted Terminal B at Logan Airport, having my dinner at the Legal Sea Foods counter. If you have ever been in Terminal B, you know that the Legal Sea Foods restaurant there is an institution for over two decades now. The best clam chowder and crab cake sandwiches in the world, let alone at an airport restaurant. But I digress.

Plastic forks and knives had replaced real silverware, and uniformed police with machine guns roamed the terminal. The world had changed, and it was there that I met Nelson, my server. Note for historical accuracy: Nelson claimed it was a year later. But I hold fast to the date and my version of the story. Perhaps it is because I selfishly want a positive memory from that terrible time.

For the next 16 years, I would pass through Logan airport and Terminal B at least four to five times each year. Without fail, I would find my way to the Legal Sea Foods counter. No matter how crowded the restaurant was, Nelson was always there working, and he would eventually clear a place for me to sit, eat, and chat for a bit. I am far from memorable, not even in the same zip code as famous, but Nelson always recognized me. He remembered my name and asked about my work, travels, and family. More important than anything else, he was always smiling and genuinely happy.

Think about that for a minute. If you have spent any time in your life being a business traveler, then you know we are not always the most polite, warm, and welcoming bunch of folks. Frequent business travel, unless you do it in a corporate jet, is not a fun inducing experience. And yet here was Nelson, serving hundreds of business travelers every day, for at least 16 years, and always with a genuine smile on his face.

I sought out Nelson and my clam chowder both on my way into Boston and on my way out of Boston. Every trip I completed. So, call it at least a sample size of 100 visits to that counter. A warm greeting and a smile for every plate appearance (a baseball reference but really referring to the crab cake sandwich plate)! Those are Hall of Fame numbers.

What does that kind of customer service do for your business? It engenders real customer loyalty. No matter how bad my business was going or how tired I was from the business trip, I would always find my way to Terminal B, that bowl of clam chowder and Nelson’s hospitality.

And the networking? Nelson was not a LinkedIn user, so no traditional networking. Our networking remained in the physical world and never migrated to the digital domain. But we were connected by a shared experience and almost two decades of friendship. On one of my last trips, before I retired, I asked Nelson to come around the counter and take the picture that I shared with this article. I treasure that photo as much as any of my many LinkedIn and work connections.

So, do I have any grand and insightful job search lessons from this story? Not really. But now as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I tend to get a little down in the dumps. Then I pull out the photo of Nelson and me from a couple years ago, and I pick myself up again.

I remind myself that there is still good in this world. People like Nelson who commit themselves to a job, an organization, and the simple routine of customer service. Never forget a face, always smile, and remember to be a friend. Thank you, Nelson, for reminding me of the power and the impact we can have on each other. Always for the better.

If you like getting your job search advice served up with an authentic voice, a dose of humility, and some popular culture, please subscribe to my AdvantEdge blog.

Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.


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