I work with leaders to help them transform their businesses, and help them understand the criticality of engaging and recognizing their employees and customers.

So it was great to see amazing employees and customer service everywhere my wife and I went on our exhilarating cycling trip in Italy, visiting the towns of Parma, Mantova, Verona, and Milan. In addition to great riding, wonderful food, wine, and amazing sights, we were truly amazed at the extraordinary levels of customer service we experienced - literally everywhere we went.

Join me on my tour and think about how these examples can be put to work in your company.

The right attitude will exceed your customers' expectations

After a walking through Parma, we sat down at an outdoor bar and ordered two glasses of wine. The waiter, who was so enthusiastic and happy to serve us, came back to our table with our wine and a plate of chips, nuts, and canapés. When I said, "thanks but we only ordered wine, he said, "THIS is how we serve wine here!". My worry (probably because I grew up in the Bronx) that we would be charged for the goodies was totally unfounded, and I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day thinking about this pleasant surprise.

Pride in your work is evident to everyone

While our group took a walking tour of the ancient city of Mantova, we stopped in front of Bacchi Giovanni, a typical Salumeria. The owner, seeing us eyeing the Moscato (bins of preserved fruit rinds) in his storefront, comes out to say hi along with a bowl of this wonderful delicacy and proudly offers us samples to taste. Several people from our group went inside the store and bought some delicacies to bring home.The owner was proud of his store and a great salesman.

Treat your customers like you really are interested in them

On a rainy Sunday, we visited Milan looked for a place to have lunch. We stopped to look at the menu of Ristorante DeRos and were instantly greeted by a woman who opened the door and invited us in as if it were her home -- a nice touch to be sure. We chose to sit upstairs overlooking the open kitchen and main dining area and saw a woman feeding her toddler some pasta and a man who was working on his laptop. He told our waitress to take our wet coats and explains to us that he is the owner, Luca, and the woman is his wife. After a short chat, Luca tells us what he can make for us (forget about the menu) and that he started this restaurant only 6 months ago -- because he wants everything to be perfect and excellent. The meal was great, and he even invited us to come back the next morning "to have a coffee with him and talk." Our lunch became so much more and all because of how Luca approached us.

Know about every aspect of your business

While still in Milan, we took a walk in a hip neighborhood called Brera, we walked into Richard Ginori, a maker of fine tableware and accessories and were immediately welcomed by a woman who asked how she can guide us. She gave us a tour of the store, and the next thing I know we were buying some plates. She was not only knowledgeable about her merchandise, she was an expert on shipping. In fact, our box arrived two days after we bought the dishes and one day before we arrived home. It was much faster than buying from Macy's.

And now, Here is the one example that breaks the pattern.

Don't be blind to the obvious

Herno, an outerwear retailer has a beautiful store Via Della Spigga in Milan. As it was raining, I thought it might be a good idea to go in and buy a rain jacket. It was 3:10PM, the door was locked, the lights were on, and it appeared that someone was inside. After a few minutes later, a young man opens the door to tell me that they will open at 3:30 -- and then he proceeds to close and lock the door. We decided to leave and not wait 15 minutes for him to re-open the store.

Ordinarily, I would shrug off this experience as an example of someone who is meticulously following rules without regard for the situational context. But having experienced the most amazing levels of customer engagement during the entire trip, the Herno experience made a huge negative impression on me. How many times does this happen to us, where employees blindly following rules do dumb things from a customer perspective?

Seeing high-performance customer engagement in action is a thrill for me to observe and experience. It is not a rote, rule driven process, but rather the desire to have empathy, humanity being nice to people and going a good job.