We all love a great customer service story. From the cashier who helps an elderly lady to her car during a thunderstorm to the airline CEO who gives up his seat for an ill passenger, stories of great service impress us, move us, and inspire us.
But why do these types of customer service stories prompt such a reaction?
Is it because customer service is often so sterile or so bad that we are impressed with even the most basic act of service if it pulls on our heart strings? Do we secretly hope that such stories demonstrate that people are decent and just?
The reactions to heartwarming customer service stories are as fascinating as the stories themselves.
The Place for Customer Service Stories
Stories of stand-out customer service can often be misleading for both organizations and consumers. Most customer service stories that capture our imagination and “go viral” do so because they are exceptional in nature; they do not represent the everyday flow of business.
“Stories do not scale.”
A scalable service action is one that can be implemented as part of normal operations, that can be executed with most customers most of the time. This is why “customer service” stories such as TD Bank creating an ATM that gives presents and WestJet buying gifts for an airplane full of passengers are publicity stunts not customer service.
In our customer service workshop, we use the above phrase to teach organizational leaders that exceptional customer service stories should not impact your customer experience strategy.
While it seems fairly obvious that most of the customer service stories which go viral are not everyday events, they seem to have an unusually precedent-setting effect, moving the bar for customer expectations past the point of realism.
Having owned multiple retail service businesses in the past decade, I can tell you that customer expectations have only gotten more outrageous; perhaps some of that is due to the fantastic service stories that make the rounds on the Internet.
While we can’t control how these stories of exceptional service are interpreted by customers, as service providers we should take great care to make sure we understand their place.
We have to be careful that we do not allow stories of truly exceptional customer service to become the reality show stars of the customer service world — representing a lifestyle that becomes the desired “normal” but is unattainable for most.
Customers expecting frontline reps to break policies, to prioritize their needs over those of other customers, and to essentially do whatever they ask because “I’m the customer” are symptoms of this interpretation.
If stories do not scale, they do signify. The stories I find particularly moving are those of frontline reps who took action on behalf of a customer that was above and beyond the boundaries of their job responsibilities.
Such stories almost always demonstrate the character of the frontline rep and show that they not only have a customer-centric outlook but a sense of humanity.
In many cases, the stories also show a customer-centric culture at work. The frontline rep is allowed to go the extra mile to be a hero to the customer because they have been empowered to do so.
The power of these stories is that they show our teams how a frontline customer service rep can have an impact on a customer’s life in ways both big and small.
“Customer service stories are not a strategy; they are a teaching tool.”
We have collected seven of our favorite customer service stories below.
While there are a couple of stories you will find on other lists of “great customer service stories,” we made sure to focus on stories that were the result of actions by frontline reps — actions that while not scalable were certainly repeatable.
The actions below did not cost the companies much in money or time; they simply required the frontline rep’s attention and a willingness to make a difference for the customer.
When a teenager preparing for his first job interview walked into Target for a tie, he probably never thought he would be part of a viral customer service story.
A shopper named Audrey was walking through the store, when she saw an older Target employee helping a young man learn to tie a tie.
The young man had come in for a clip-on tie, which Target does not sell, so a Target employee called over her fellow employee, Dennis Roberts, who showed the teen how to tie the tie.
Audrey witnessed this exchange and then saw Dennis showing the teen how to field interview questions and how to shake hands.
She was blown away by the incredible act of service, and posted the encounter to Facebook with this comment:
In Target at Triangle Town Center. A kid came in looking for a clip-on tie for a job interview this afternoon. The store only had regular ties, so this awesome Target team member took the time to help the nervous teen put on his new tie, tuck in his shirt and then showed him how to give a proper handshake and tackle a few tough interview questions! As the kid exited the store, a bunch of supportive Target team members cheered him on! THIS is true customer service – Right on the mark, Target!!
The post subsequently got thousands of likes and was picked up by the media, causing it to go viral.
There were no complicated customer service techniques at work here, just a desire to help a customer in need and to put forth that extra effort to make a customer’s life better.
By the way, the kid got the job — at a local Chik-Fil-A — I’m guessing he’ll fit right in.
Chris Hurn of Mercantile Capital Corporation told a great story in the Huffington Post about a visit his family made to the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island.
Hurn’s young son left his stuffed giraffe “Joshie” at the resort. Hurn’s son was upset, of course, but Hurn managed to convince him that Joshie was fine and was taking an extended vacation at the resort.
Hurn called the Ritz and discovered that Joshie had been found. He asked the Loss Prevention Team at the hotel if they could take a picture of Joshie on a lounge chair to support what he had told his son.
What the Ritz staff sent back to Hurn was a true example of Hero-Class® service.
The staff not only took pictures of Joshie in a lounge chair, but also of him hanging out with other stuffed friends, getting a massage, driving a golf cart and doing other activities around the resort.
In addition, the staff put all of the pictures in a binder and created a Loss Prevention ID card for Joshie.
Sure, the staff at the Ritz could have spent $2,000 helping out Hurn and his son, but all it really took was some ingenuity and a willingness to make an effort to create an emotional impact that left an indelible impression.
In Chapter 1 of Be Your Customer’s Hero, we spoke about how great customer service involves putting aside what is going on in your own life and focusing on the needs of others. This New Jersey waitress took the concept to a new level and what happened in return will blow you away.
The story begins as two New Jersey firefighters walk into a restaurant at 6 a.m. A 12-hour fire battle had been on the news that evening, and the waitress had been following it closely.
When the firefighters went to pay their check, they were handed this guest check with a handwritten note from their waitress, Liz Woodward.
The firefighters were touched by the gesture, and one of them posted the receipt to Facebook with this message:
“Such a selfless and kind act. I definitely urge my friends to make a trip out and support the business, and if Liz happens to be your waitress, tip big.”
What happened after the firefighters posted the picture to Facebook is amazing!
The firefighters learned that Liz’s father was a quadriplegic and that there was a crowdfunding campaign to get him a wheelchair accessible van for $17,000. The firefighters encouraged others to contribute to the campaign:
“Turns out, the young lady who gave us a free meal is really the one that could use the help…”
The campaign soon broke $70,000, far more than was originally needed.
Liz was facing challenges with her own family, but she could still appreciate the sacrifices of others and demonstrate that while on the job.
In customer service, acts of kindness are their own reward, but in this case, the reward was more than could be imagined.
Is there a difference between customer service and kindness? This story about a McDonald’s employee in Chicago asks that very question.
This story was shared by Destiny Carreno, who observed the interaction while in the restaurant.
She watched as a elderly man in a wheelchair approach a cashier.
“The man politely tried to ask the cashier something and it took him a few tries before either of us could understand he was saying “Help me please”. Neither of us knew what help he needed, and the cashier suggested a few things before he figured out the gentleman needed help cutting and eating his meal.
To be honest, I thought the cashier wasn’t going to help, especially during rush hour in downtown Chicago, but to my shock, he shut down his register and disappeared from view….
Not to get away from helping him, but to wash his hands and put gloves on! … The cashier came out from the kitchen, sat down, and began cutting the man’s meal and helped him eat.
At that point, the tears started to gather in my eyes. My heart was so appreciative for what he did. I couldn’t contain my emotions in the crowded restaurant.
This employee, who put everything on hold for this man, went above and beyond his responsibilities (sic) to help this handicapped customer out. That was the kindest and most humble thing I had ever seen.”
Customer service does involve kindness — making a simple gesture, sharing a kind word, or simply taking that extra step to improve another person’s day.
The article asks if this is customer service or kindness?
Turns out there’s more than one way for a company to help a child with a lost toy.
Seven-year old Luka Apps had purchased a new LEGO Ninjago Ultra Sonic Raider set with his Christmas money.
Shortly thereafter and against his father’s advice, Luka took some of the characters from the set on a trip to the store with him.
The character Jay ZX never returned from the mission.
It appears that Luka was all set to learn a valuable lesson about responsibility; however, he ended up learning lessons about perseverance and customer service as well.
Luka was willing to sit down, compose an email, and ask the company for a little help.
Luka wrote the following to Lego to tell them of his unfortunate parting with Jay ZX:
The response he received from Lego was epic:
Lego had many options — even the best of the standard options imaginable would have been a new toy and a short note. However, Lego took the time to reinforce its brand, support the message of the parent, and to make the child feel great.
Lego won two customers that day — Luka and his dad.
This is a personal experience of mine.
We traveled to Asheville, NC one year to celebrate my wife’s birthday. When booking our room at the Hotel Indigo, we briefly mentioned the birthday to the reservation agent, hoping to get a room with a view, but we didn’t make a big deal about it.
That conversation was a month before we booked the trip.
When we arrived that July 4th weekend, we were a few hours ahead of the 3:00 check-in. After killing time downtown and waiting patiently in the lobby, I approached the reservation desk to check the status of the room.
The front desk representative leaned over and whispered, “We are still getting your room ready. I gave you an awesome mountain view on the 9th floor, but the concierge is still out buying stuff to prepare the room for your wife’s birthday.”
I was shocked! The staff not only documented her birthday when we mentioned it in passing a month before but checked the notes prior to check-in and went out of their way to create an incredible surprise.
I kept my wife occupied in the lobby while we waited, and when we finally arrived in the room, this is what we saw:
My wife was touched by the gesture, which unfortunately I had to admit had been the hotel’s doing not mine. This was a special weekend away for a milestone birthday, and the staff at the Hotel Indigo made our first experience an absolutely amazing one and made the birthday one my wife will always remember.
With simple systems, some awareness, and a desire to make an effort for their customers, the team at the Hotel Indigo started off a celebratory weekend in an amazing way!
Lauren Casper has a special family. She and her husband are adoptive parents of two beautiful children, both with special needs. Like many a young mother, one day while shopping with her family, Lauren felt overwhelmed. She was hurrying to the car, almost in tears, with her youngest child in tow when she heard someone yell out to her:
“I stopped and turned to find a young woman rushing toward me. A bright smile covered her face and I immediately noticed her beautiful black curls, just like the black curls snuggled on my chest, tickling my chin. Recognizing her shirt, I realized that she worked there and assumed I must have dropped something. I looked at her, holding back my tears, waiting.
‘I just wanted you to have this bouquet…‘ and I looked down to see the flowers in her hands. She quickly continued to explain…
‘I was adopted as a baby and it has been a wonderful thing. We need more families like yours.‘ I stared at her, stunned. Hadn’t she seen what a disaster we were in the store? Didn’t she see that we were barely able to keep it together? Didn’t she see what I felt were all my failures as a mom?
As she handed me the flowers I managed to choke out a thank you and tried to express that this meant the world to me. She patted my shoulder, told me my family was beautiful, and walked back into the store.”
The Trader Joe’s employee, JoAnn, went out of her way to make an impact on a customer’s life. She saw something special, and she did something special in return.
The stories above all began because frontline team members saw their customers as something more than customers; they saw them as human beings who needed something more than just ordinary service.
These stories were created by the individuals on the front lines, but they were enabled by cultures that empowered employees to take actions like these while on the clock.
Did Liz Woodward pay for the firefighters’ meal herself? It seems like she might have. Did JoAnn at Trader Joe’s pay for the flowers herself or did Trader Joe’s? It seems like the company might encourage such moments, and it’s possible Trader Joe’s has a clandestine policy about this very act.
We may not know all of the details, but it seems clear that these businesses or these individual stores empowered their employees to take care of customers in special ways.
Dennis Roberts at Target was able to stop what he was doing and spend time with a customer. The Ritz Carlton employees took time off of other duties to photograph Joshie around the resort. And JoAnn at Trader Joe’s grabbed inventory and ran out the store to hand it to a customer in the parking lot.
Behind every great customer service story is a special human being and a customer-centric culture.
The world needs more of both.