Anthony Haines- warming the homes (and holidays) of Torontonians

We knew it was coming, but we didn’t realize how bad it would hit us. The December ice storm caused a reported 130,000 power outages across the GTA. People were afraid to leave their homes, shivering in front of a dismal fire. Even Mayor Rob Ford appeared as a ray of hope during this crisis, because despite his well-known personal issues he looked to be in control and played the part of the leader. But when it comes down to it, the real heat (or perhaps I should say cold) didn’t fall on the Mayor or any other politician but on the shoulders of Anthony Haines, President and Chief Executive Officer of Toronto Hydro. He stood by Ford’s side during each press conference updating the public on Toronto Hydro’s progress. I remember waiting by the transistor radio, all excitement for the holidays channeled into listening to Haines’ voice as he listed off the areas he hoped would have power soon.

No one could have been totally prepared for a natural disaster like that. Haines was blunt, not feeding the public false answers. He was a real, tangible beacon of hope, out there on the streets, away from his family on Christmas, solving the problems one area at a time. And yet, people still weren’t happy. I mean, when you’re getting thousands of phone calls from Toronto Hydro customers each day complaining, you quickly realize your trouble spots, and Haines was not one to cover them up, but instead admitted to them and worked on finding a solution.

I like to think quality is a journey, not a destination. Nothing will ever be perfect, but there will always be an unlimited number of imperfections. It takes continuous experimentation and brainstorming to find the glitches, which for most organizations occurs over a long period of time, but for Haines it was a matter of days.

I was impressed with this guy and so I organized a meeting, hoping that we might come up with some type of collaboration. He took the time to meet with me and talk and I saw that none of it was an act. He’s a generally an open-minded person with Toronto’s well being at heart, and for that I’d like to thank him and tell him to keep up the good work. It is because of people like Anthony Haines that I still believe that a positive customer service experience still exists.


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Collecting cold hard cash from freezing guests

I like to keep these blogs positive, wanting to promote good companies for their excellent customer service rather than tearing down bad ones, but every once in a while I notice an incident that needs to be aired out, and I’m afraid I’ve stumbled across one. So please excuse the venting as I indulge in a moment of catharsis.

Back in December, Toronto was hit by an ice storm which rolled through the city like a biker gang on a destructive spree. Trees snapped and withered, roads flash froze into skating rinks, and we huddled together in our homes for warmth praying that the power would soon be back on. But as the power outage lingered beyond a few days and settled a profound darkness on the holiday season, people began to realize they needed to escape their soon to be freezer box houses. So those who could afford it packed up the family and checked into some of the hotels around the city that had power. But you can’t leave beloved Fido or Whiskers behind, so families brought their pets to the hotels with them. The only problem was that the hotels were charging people to keep their pets in their rooms—and not just dogs or cats but hamsters and guinea pigs as well!

Now, I understand that they’re running a business and are in it to make a profit, but it seemed like they were siphoning money from their so-called ‘guests’ at a time when these people had no other options. A natural disaster strikes the city and here they are taking advantage of it, rather than us banding together and them stepping up to help people during a time of crisis. And for it to happen so widely leads me to believe that this wasn’t an oversight in hotel protocol but a conscious decision made by management on how to deal with the situation. The short sightedness seems almost comical. They shot themselves in the foot for a few extra bucks. By aggravating numerous guests they lost a load of customers as well as all the recommendations those guests could have given to friends or family who visit the city. One act of kindness goes a long way, but just as easily one act of greed can mar a reputation for just as long.


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Feel “at home” at Caffe Brasiliano

It’s funny the things that stick with you from the old neighborhood. The things we miss and the traditions we carry on. For me, one of those things is Caffe Brasiliano, a cafeteria-coffee shop squeezed between Little Italy and Little Portugal on Dundas, west of Bathurst. The place is a family owned restaurant run by two brothers, Kenny and Brock, and a well-known spot to the locals, taking the place of the chains like Starbucks and Second Cup.

Inside are two counters, the first is a coffee bar with a barista ready to serve you a variety of drinks and types of coffee from all over the world. The second counter is a hot table, set up cafeteria-style, where you pick the foods you want and they carry it over to one of the tables for you. There’s a ubiquitous family attitude to the place, the cashier telling you to sit down and eat before worrying about payment, and often you’ll end up sharing one of the long tables with a fellow customer. Some days you can even find up to ten cabbies on break, crowded around a table, sipping a coffee, or munching on some hot food. In the summer they open up the garage-like windows at the front of the restaurant to let the breeze in and give the place an open concept feel. It’s cheap and the portions are more than adequate, but if you do have an insatiable hunger, you can go back and ask for a bit of a bigger helping free of charge. There’s a couple TV sets showing that day’s soccer game, a good conversation starter if you’re looking for someone to talk to.

I still take my daughter there on Saturday afternoons, and although I no longer live in the neighborhood, when I step through Caffe Brasiliano’s front door I feel like a local. They’re impeccable customer service is delivered effortlessly, with a casual feel and I always have a great experience whenever I stop by.

Caffe Brasiliano
849 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON



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Kudos to the Golden Arches

Just off of Highway 35-115, nestled amongst the outskirts of the bucolic town of Newcastle, is a small oasis. An oasis that the average driver would fly right passed, not even batting an eye. That’s because it’s a restaurant readily found—too readily, as some believe—across our country: McDonald’s. McDonald’s, that’s no oasis, you say. I can hear the sounds of your mouses drifting up towards the red x, but hear me out. We forget sometimes that just because a restaurant is part of a chain doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

One morning, a couple of weeks ago, I was driving up Highway 35-115, on my way to the ski slopes, at Brimacombe. It was early, I had my daughter with me, and neither of us had eaten yet, so when we saw those iconic yellow arches above the high snow banks. I pulled off the highway and into the drive-thru. We were the first customers in line, and we ordered an Egg McMuffin, a chocolate chip muffin, and a couple of drinks. The girl told us it would just take a minute to prepare the Egg McMuffin and if we were willing to pull up front they would bring the food to us. Well, I parked the car and waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, as our stomachs were beginning to audibly growl, the girl hurried out and handed us our food. Rather than the mechanical response of another business transaction, the girl apologized profusely, and mentioned that she had included a couple free hash browns, in the bag, as a form of reparation. Aside from the genuine apology, I was quite surprised by the added gesture. Not only were they sincerely sorry but they’d gone above the call of duty to fix the situation- a move only made by companies that swear by their excellent customer service.

An often overlooked aspect of the service industry is service recovery. A term referring to taking a customer’s hellish experience and turning it into a heavenly one. This doesn’t just mean apologizing to the customer but also providing them with something of value to ensure their continued business. In fact, a customer is more likely to return to your business following a service recovery situation, than after a normal transaction. There’s an old joke in the hotel business that if you want to hook a long-time customer it’s better to screw up the first time and then make it up to them.

Needless to say, the McDonald’s off of Highway 35-115 showed an excellent display of service recovery and certainly impressed me. If you’re ever in the area, I would definitely consider stopping by for a quick bite, and some great service.

1000 Regional Road 17
Newcastle, ON L1B 1L9


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And your troubles seem to melt away…

The stress of deadlines and projects can take a real toll on you, both emotionally and physically. Then there’s the back, neck, and leg pain from sitting in that office chair all day. The simple solution? Get a massage.

MassageTime, a Toronto based company run by Eva Tettinger, offers reasonably priced, in-office massages to employees of a business, coupled with great customer service. Depending on the number of employees, companies can book the service for anywhere from three hours to an entire week. The masseuse brings their own portable massage chair for you to settle into and plays soothing background music while your stress is rubbed away. Each massage lasts 15-30 minutes and is performed through the employee’s clothing. Talk about awesome customer service and a great way to de-stress! If you’re looking for more, the company also offers personal massages at their clinic.

According to the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of Ontario therapeutic massage provides a number of benefits, including reducing or eliminating pain, improving joint mobility, circulation and immune system functioning, reducing depression, anxiety and tension in muscles, and increasing lymphatic drainage. All of these benefits contribute to staff feeling revitalized and ready to work, and in my experience, Eva’s services are always well received by employees because of her amazing hands and even better customer service. Whether you have an office of 20 or 100 think about getting them a massage. They’ll appreciate it- trust me.
Eva Tettinger


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Going above and beyond the call

cell phone repair

I’m certainly not the first to do it and I won’t be the last, but recently I dropped my Blackberry, cracking the screen.  It still functioned, but peering through the fragmented glass to read an email wasn’t ideal, so I started to shop around to find somewhere that could fix it for a good price.

Most of the places I inquired at quoted me $80 to $100 for the repair, until I stumbled upon Stellar Cellular.  The business is a small electronics store on College Street, squeezed between two pizza places. I called them on a Saturday and a guy named Richard answered.  He told me they could fix it for $60, but would need to order some parts which wouldn’t arrive until Tuesday.  Feeling bad, Richard suggested a couple of other stores I could go to if I needed it done right away.  A business man willing to turn away business for the good of the customer!  Richard was more worried about me than his own profit.  I was so impressed with his level of customer service that I told him I’d be happy to wait until Tuesday.

So, come Tuesday, I make my way down to College Street, between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street, and there’s Richard waiting for me behind the counter.  I hand over the phone, and he tells me to come back in about 45 minutes, while he does his magic….badda bing badda boom, my phone is good to go again.  I thanked him, paid for the work, and headed off.

After I got back home, I noticed that there was something off with the screen, that was only visible  with certain backgrounds.  Since it was very distracting I had my dad take the phone back to Stellar Cellular and show Richard the problem.  He took the phone again, promising to fix it, and gave it back to my dad, a short time later.  When my dad brought me the phone, I opened the case, and snuggled up next to the Blackberry is $60 and a short note reading, “Deepest Apologies for the inconvenience. Your business is very important to me. Kind Regards, Richard”.

I would have been ecstatic just having the phone fixed, let alone having it fixed for free!  For the second time, I didn’t feel like a just a piece of business, a sale, a profit, but a real person that Richard genuinely wanted to help. It’s refreshing to see a businesses that ensures that quality customer service is delivered to the customer- each and every time.

Stellar Cellular
378 College St.
Toronto, ON


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Welcome to SQM Picks!

We are very excited to announce the launch of SQM Picks… a feature about the businesses that SQM has grown to know and love. Our President, David Lipton, has years of experience in a variety of industries, and is very passionate about customer service. He is always coming across great businesses, and he believes that they should get the credit that they deserve. SQM Picks will be posted every Wednesday, so be sure to keep an eye out for our latest picks and some of the President’s top recommendations.

Do you know of a business that deserves a standing ovation and a mention in SQM Picks?  We’re always on the lookout for great businesses, and would love to hear about any that you feel should be featured in one of our articles. You can follow us and tweet us at @SQMInc, follow us and send us a message on Facebook at Sensors Quality Management – Mystery Shopping, or email us at

We hope that you enjoy what SQM Picks has to offer. What are you waiting for? Take your pick!

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