So, I’m sitting in the bar at Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, Washington, killing time. My flight back to Vegas is delayed. Not one to sit in silence, I strike up a conversation with a young man perched on the stool next to mine. He’s delayed too.
I ask where he’s going and learn he’s on his way to Seattle to catch a connecting flight to New York: his aunt’s funeral. Then I learn that in addition to the psychological weight of saying goodbye to his aunt, he was informed that he only had minutes in Seattle to dash through the airport and make his connection to New York. But that wasn’t all. While the gate personnel reassured him that he would most likely have time to make the New York flight, his luggage, including his funeral attire, probably wouldn’t.
You see, my young friend had packed a large suitcase for the trip. And there was no way that the airline would have time to transfer his baggage to the correct flight, and there was no way that his bag would fit into one of those overhead bins. He needed a smaller piece of luggage in which to pack his dress suit. Obviously, he didn’t have one.
Then something remarkable happened. The gate personnel for Alaska Airlines recognized an opportunity to help someone in need, and they acted on it. They provided a carry-on bag to make certain that this young man would have everything he needed to appropriately celebrate his aunt’s life when he touched down in New York.
He didn’t ask for the carry-on bag. He didn’t make a scene. The Alaska Airlines personnel just believed it was the right thing to do. They showed empathy and kindness ¬– the two indispensible components of great customer service.
I shared this story with my team and told them, “If you EVER need to give someone a carry-on bag, DO IT! You will always have our support!”
The incident reminded me of several other memorable examples of superior service – the kind that customers (and witnesses) never forget, the kind with heart. These stories (and others) can be found at HelpScout.net:
A Wendy’s Server with a Servant’s Heart
In the middle of a heavy downpour, a Wendy’s employee went outside the restaurant, removed a table umbrella, and escorted an elderly man with a walker to his car. It was a simple act of kindness that has nothing to do with restaurant service, and everything to do with truly serving others.
Southwest Airlines: A Child’s Fear of Flying
When it became apparent that nine-year old Gabby, a type 1 diabetic, was severely anxious about being on an airplane, Garrick, a Southwest crewmember, did what came naturally. He worked throughout the flight to make Gabby more comfortable, bringing her special drinks and trying to make her laugh.
And when the plane went through some turbulence, Garrick welcomed Gabby to the empty seat next to him, and engaged her in conversation about his own daughter (the same age as Gabby), and about her pets, and her school. And he calmed Gabby sitting close and allowing her to hold on to his arm for reassurance.
Upon landing, Garrick announced to the passengers that his friend Gabby had just overcome her fear of flying, and that she deserved a round of applause. “The whole plane clapped for her,” her mother reported afterwards. “It was a wonderful experience on Southwest. We are forever grateful to have met such a beautiful, selfless soul.”
An Impromptu Dance Party at Trader Joe’s
The following is an excerpt from the blog “Life With the Kid”, written by a mother about experiences with her son who has high-functioning autism:
This evening I took the kid to Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries. He was bouncing off the walls, unable to reign-in and control himself. He almost ran into an employee—again. The employee rolled with it, pivoting easily to change his direction. I spoke with the kid, “Please pay attention. You almost ran into that guy.”
That guy told me not to worry about it: “It’s part of the job. We’re always dodging around customers.” “So, it’s like a constant dance party?” I asked. And that was it — DANCE PARTY indeed. That guy called out another employee who was stocking the frozen food and next thing I knew… they were literally jammin’ out, bringin’ down the house in the middle of the frozen food isle. And then, they invited my kid to dance along.
At first, he was too shy. But after about 30 seconds of watching these two grown, awesome people rock-it-out, he started bustin’ a move. And they cheered him on. And my heart was glad: glad to be at Trader Joe’s; glad that these employees were awesome people; glad that my kid was getting his antsy-ness out in a fun way with positive reinforcement from these adults who will never know how thankful I am for their ability to turn a stressful moment into a fun memory. My kid will always remember Trader Joe’s as the place he danced.
Zappos: A Step Beyond
A Zappos customer was shopping for shoes for her elderly mother. Due to a medical condition, her mother had very sensitive feet and was often in pain when wearing hard-soled shoes. The customer bought six pairs of shoes from Zappos, and her mother tried them on and found two that she could tolerate.
When her mother called Zappos to return the other four pairs of shoes, she discovered that the customer representative could relate to her plight; the employee’s father had suffered from similar foot problems due to diabetes. The Zappos CSR ended the conversation by saying that she would pray for the woman to feel better. But she did more than that. As described by the woman’s daughter:
“My mom called me to relay the news, and I could hear the smile on her face from 600 miles away. She said that the lovely Zappos person had sent her an enormous bouquet of lilies and roses to let her know she was thinking of her. My sister emailed the company to thank Zappos for taking such good care of my Mom. Two days later, my mom, sister, and I were contacted and told we are now “Zappos VIP Members,” which entitles us to free expedited shipping on all our orders. My sister vows to buy every pair of shoes, from now on, from Zappos.”
Every. Single. Day.
That’s how often we have opportunities to distinguish ourselves from our competitors and to establish a spirit that defines what we represent to our customers. Think empathy and kindness. Your actions must say: We get it. We feel you. We ARE you.
Listen, great customer service isn’t brain surgery.
But you do need to open up the heart.