Many years ago, I used to work with somebody who in a previous life had been a restaurant manager. One of the lessons she had taken from that experience was how to say goodbye.

At the beginning of a restaurant meal, people are where they want to be. They are there for an experience, and nobody expects, or even particularly wants, things to happen instantly. Understanding¬† and ideally matching the customer’s preferred rhythm is part of the service, but there is typically quite a lot of flexibility about exactly how and when different elements of the service are provided.

At the end of a meal, by contrast, people are in a very different mental state. At the point they decide they are ready to leave, any delay or obstacle to their actual leaving is a problem which affects their perception of the entire experience.

The lesson my colleague had taken from that is that there were precisely two steps in the entire experience of having a meal in a restaurant where it was essential to respond immediately to a customer request: when they asked for the bill, and when they were ready to pay it. Everything else had some flexibility, but not that.

In a broader sense, the maturity and self-confidence with which any kind of service provider manages the end of a relationship is one of the most powerful indicators of their overall approach to service quality. Putting effort into helping people to arrive is an obvious and easy thing to focus on (which is not at all to say easy to do well). Putting effort into helping people to leave, and to have faith that that is not only the right thing to do but that it will ultimately help rather than hinder the success of the business is neither obvious nor easy.

Meanwhile, Paul Clarke is ending his ten-year relationship with his mobile phone provider. It didn’t go well.