Customer Wise: An unwavering focus on the customer

Michelle Di Gangi
Posted by Michelle Di Gangi
Small Business Banking

As part of our video series featuring some Bank of the West Merchant Services clients, we were inspired by a business owner who strives to treat his customers like family.

Michael Feno in Lucca Ravioli store.Michael Feno is the CEO of Lucca Ravioli in San Francisco, which has been open for nearly a century. His store is like a mouth-watering emporium for Italian cuisine, as you’ll see in the video at the bottom of this page. His singular focus on serving customers also comes through, both in the video and Q&A below, thus I’m not surprised his business has seen such remarkable longevity.

Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your long-running business? A: We’ve gone from 100% cash transactions to about 24% today. Before the 1970s people would almost consider charging for food as sacrilegious, whereas today it is an integral part of how customers manage their purchases.

As a third-generation owner of the company, what insights about family business succession planning have been really useful for you?

Fundamental to any business is a strong commitment to your business philosophy. You have to have clarity as to what you want to do and why. In our case it is the retail food service area, so we are asking how we can best serve the customer that walks in the door. In business succession, naturally, a family member will have preference — but only if they can demonstrate how they understand the business principals and can move them forward.

You’ve said treating customers like family is a foundational principle for your business. Can you give an example?

I remember about 20 years ago two Argentinian young men came into the store and were obviously frantic, plus their English was minimal. I understood that they were having trouble calling home, that they had missed their connections and were lost. When they asked how they could get a card and call Argentina, I said, “Why don’t you just pick up my phone and call?” I’ll always remember their looks of bewilderment when I handed them the phone. They quickly connected to their home in Argentina.

For a moment I put myself in their shoes; I was them. The same thing we should try to do with every person who walks into the store.

What is the most significant lesson you’ve learned in your business about processing payments?

Cash flow is a great partnership between the customer, our store, and the bank. It should seamlessly be in the background and happen automatically. You want the focus to be the customer and on supplying their needs, while the mechanics of the transaction happens without being noticed.

What tip would you give to somebody who is just starting a business that relies heavily on retail or merchant services?

The work that you put in ahead of time on your business plan — that includes your financial planning — is invaluable. Once you have started your business, then the businesses that support you are so valuable. They will let you concentrate on your customers, as opposed to fixing problems. That is why we appreciate Bank of the West so much to handle our cash flow and credit-card charges; it frees us to do what we have done since 1925, take care of our customers.

Hear more from Michael Feno in this video:

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