Yesterday I bought some sardines from a local fish market near where I live in Portugal every summer. The lady selling the fish had a display of sardines in front of a box of them. I felt one or two of the sardines in front of the box to test how fresh they were. The stiffer they are, the better. The flavour of fish changes dramatically after a day or so. These were fresh. They were also large and plump (not like the pathetic version we see in the UK). I asked for 2 kilos (enough for 10 people we were entertaining at the villa that evening). Instead of picking the fresh sardines on display, she picked them from the box. I assumed they would be the same. But when I got home and started to prepare them, I discovered that the ones she had sold me were a couple of days older than the ones on display. She had deliberately deceived me, and presumably all her customers until she had emptied her box and then had to sell her display fish.
A couple of years ago I was in a French market. Spying a seller of wild mushrooms who had an impressive variety on his stall, I joined the queue. The mushrooms I was after are known as pied de mouton, or 'sheep's feet'. Delicious fried in butter. These also deteriorate with age. The fresher they are, the firmer. He had a large pile and plenty of people in front of me were buying them. When it got to my turn, instead of randomly scooping up the half kilo I had asked for, he very carefully picked the biggest freshest examples on display for me. It's easy to see which are the freshest from the colour. Older ones go a bit orangey. I paid him and thought what a lucky chap I had been to personally get the best he had. I had 'beaten' the people behind me to those larger fresher mushrooms. I was special.... Until I realised that he does this with every customer. The next customer also got the very best examples on display and so on until he had sold the last one. Every single customer would believe they were special.
Both sellers sold me what I had asked for. Only one of them will get my custom again. Exceeding customer expectations is the single most important thing a company can do.
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