The Best Way to Win in Business by Val DiFebo @FortuneMagazine 1:45 PM EST E-mail Tweet Facebook Linkedin Share icons The Fortune 500 Insider Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch New York, has answered the question: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your first job? I have learned a lot of valuable lessons in my career. Some came from great mentors, others from clients or the experience that comes from managing teams of people. But from where I sit now, it is clear to me that some of the most important lessons I’ve learned came from my very first job working summers as a waitress at a country club. Most people don’t view serving as a position that has much to offer in terms of lifelong lessons, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. From interpersonal skills to client service, that early experience taught me much more than the proper way to set a table. The importance of customer experience Anyone can ask a person what he or she would like to eat and then bring it to the table. What’s harder is creating a superior experience for customers by going above and beyond what they think they want. This is something we do in advertising all the time when we use our creativity and expertise to deliver on more than what a client has asked for in a brief. This means listening closely to what your customer is asking for, and applying what you know about the business you work in to create an even better experience than they anticipated. Is there a special dish you know they’ll love? Something unique you can offer for a birthday dinner? The ability to provide added value and pleasant surprises for clients is a skill that never stops being useful. See also: Never Say This Word After Starting a New Job Relationship management A good server will always have regulars. When customers ask to sit in a server’s section repeatedly, it’s because they know that person understands them, respects them, and will take care of them. They’re there because that server cares enough to remember how they like their steak or that they don’t drink alcohol. Learning to build those relationships with my regulars, gaining their trust, and building an understanding of what is important to each individual was hugely valuable as a server and still something I prioritize today. Waitressing is also where I started to learn how far you should be willing to go for a client before it impacts your job or your business—a dynamic that arises frequently in all service-driven businesses. I often think back to an evening when I was serving a regular customer who had accidentally spilled red wine on his white linen suit. He asked me for an unconventional favor: to run his suit through the dishwasher. I didn’t think this would work, and worse, I felt my doing so might ruin the suit. I tried to talk him out of it, but we trusted each other enough that he successfully assured me he wouldn’t be angry if his idea backfired. I gave it shot, and to my total surprise, it worked. Managing unexpected requests, putting my expertise to work for customers, and doing special—sometimes strange—favors was key to my success as a waitress, and now in advertising. The art of timing One of the most important aspects of being a server is understanding the rhythm of both the kitchen and the dining experience you’re providing. Knowing when to put in the entree order and when to drop the check as you manage the process between the back of the house and the customer is key to ensuring all runs smoothly. I still use these skills today. Timing is crucial in managing projects between the client and your team. Juggling deadlines, managing workflow, and making timely work that’s culturally relevant is an everyday part of the job. The value of preparedness When you’re serving a few hundred dinners per night, there’s no time to play catch-up. Before the first customer walks in, the silverware should be polished, the tables set, and everyone ready to go. It’s a smart way to approach business, too. Being prepared, whether it’s with extra research, additional concepts, or a well-rehearsed presentation, is crucial for winning and keeping business, and helping teams expect the unexpected from clients. The key to getting the most out of any first job is being open to learning everything you can from it. There’s no job in the world that won’t teach you something you can use down the line in your career, as long as go into it thinking the experience has value. Work hard, keep an open mind, and always remember to tip your waiter or waitress. Read all responses to the Fortune 500 Insider question: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your first job? What a Sub Shop Taught This Executive About New Opportunities by Frank Carni, head of auto claims at Farmers Insurance. What every CEO can learn from professional athletes by Glenn Lurie, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility.