Well-known companies such as Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Amazon are generally lauded for consistently providing exceptional customer service. Yet, there are always stories of ordinary employees that go above and beyond the call of duty to create an extraordinary experience for their customers. In an age when customer service is run by robots and computer applications, simple gestures to humanize the interaction between employee and customer can go a long way.
Actions from simply sending flowers, to holding up entire commercial airplanes, are judgment calls made by informed employees to assure customers that their needs go beyond employee convenience, and sometimes even company policies. The following examples are a few we have heard at BigSpeak that have shaped company legacies and provided inspiration for employees to make their customers feel valued.
#1. Zappos: Flowers and UPS – Going beyond company policy to make a difference
While online shoe and clothing store Zappos, is already known for providing exceptional service to its customers (including free shipping for purchases and returns) there are several times when Zappos reps have made policy exceptions to uniquely address customer needs. One story that exemplifies this reputation happened when a customer was unable to ship a pair of shoes back (return) because her mother had just passed away. She didn’t have the time to make it to the post office and called Zappos to apologize. The service representative arranged for UPS to pick up the shoes directly from the customers home and then sent a flower arrangement with a handwritten note to the customer’s home, expressing sympathy.
The simple gestures Zappos made to humanize their customer did not cost much in time or money. Not only did they help a customer going through a hard time feel valued as a human but the simple touches of going above and beyond earned them a committed, lifelong customer.
Click here to hear Chief of Staff at Zappos, Jamie Naughton, recall the story.
#2. Southwest: Hold the Plane – Using discretion to accommodate one passenger in need.
We’ve been taught the needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few. Sometimes there are exceptions to his rule. Similar to Zappos, Southwest Airlines has also boasted a customer-centric culture and reputation. In this scenario, however, Southwest employees were faced with a decision to compromise the convenience of a plane full of paying customers to make an exception for one passenger in need.
A male passenger was en route from Los Angeles to his daughter’s home in Denver to see his three-year-old grandson for the last time. The boy was in a coma and scheduled to be taken off life support at 9 p.m. so his organs could be used to save other lives. The man’s wife called Southwest to arrange the last-minute flight and explained the emergency situation. Unfortunately, the man was held up by traffic and long lines at LAX, resulting in him not making it to the departure gate on time. When he finally made it to the gate, 12 minutes after the plane was scheduled to leave, he was shocked to find the pilot waiting for him. He thanked the pilot profusely, and the pilot said, “They can’t go anywhere without me, and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
This story is a testament to the training of core values to the employees and also one of exercising good judgment and compassion for the customer. The pilot was able to use his discretion to go against company policy, compromising the temporary convenience of hundreds of passengers, in order to accommodate a man who otherwise would not have been able to see his grandson again.
Click here to see information on the Former CEO of Southwest, Howard Putnam.
#3. Sainsbury: Giraffe Bread – Listening to the customer when they are clearly right.
Many customer service-centric companies live by the mantra and first rule of business, “The customer is always right.” This viewpoint is controversial, since, in reality, the customer is sometimes right, and other times the customer is very wrong (but how can that be if we are constantly drilled with the first rule? In the case of a three-year-old customer named, Lily, however, Sainsbury grocery store in the U.K. acknowledged that the young customer was indeed correct in identifying that their “Tiger” bread looked more like a giraffe than a tiger.
When Lily’s comment was relayed to the grocery chain, asking why they called it “tiger” bread, Chris King, customer service manager, responded. “I think renaming Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread is a brilliant idea—it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it? It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a looong time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.” He enclosed a gift card of thanks, and then the bread was renamed.
While the name of Sainsbury’s bread might not have been a game changer in the way of sales, the lesson here is that companies must address their customers’ feedback to improve the customer experience, and perhaps even end up with a heart-warming viral story.
The content writers at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau are Experts on the Experts. They hold doctoral, masters, and bachelors’ degrees in business, writing, literature, and education. Their business thought pieces are published regularly in leading business publications. Working in close association with the top business, entrepreneur, and motivational speakers, BigSpeak content writers are at the forefront of industry trends and research.