Secrets of Surprising Service (A Case Study)

The other day I was on my way to the airport to catch a flight for a speaking engagement. I was already in a time crunch and it was raining in Atlanta, which meant my trip time could easily double. (Yes, Atlanta is a city where when it rains, it takes twice as long to get anywhere.)

I was just a few minutes away from my house when I heard a big crack against my windshield. I jumped a mile, managed to stay on the road and quickly realized it wasn’t a rock or tree branch. Instead, I had a broken windshield wiper. Not good. I clearly couldn’t make the 30 mile trek to the airport in the rain with a broken wiper.

Knowing my trip was now on a different track, I decided to make a quick stop at the local auto parts store in the hope that: number one, they would be open at 7:30 in the morning and two, that they would be able to fix my wiper – quickly – so I wouldn’t miss my flight.

Score! When I found the store, it had just opened. I walked in and briskly told the man behind the counter “I’m on my way to the airport…and my wiper just broke.

You might think that was gift wrapping the perfect opportunity to take advantage of a woman in distress. And it may have been, but I though the direct approach was best, given the circumstances. Thankfully, the salesman did not jump at the chance to sell me something unreasonably expensive. He simply came outside (in the rain)  to look at my wiper, assessed the problem, and said, “All you need is a clip.” Whew!

We went inside and he found the clip, came back out and put it on my wiper. In less than five minutes, the problem was fixed.

Gushing thanks, I asked , “How much do  owe you?

The reply? “Nothing.”

Was this my lucky day? Not really, it was simply what I call surprising service.

It’s the Right Thing to Do

Some businesses make surprising service a basic tenet of the way they treat customers. Others could not care less. Given the choice, where do you suppose I’ll go the next time I need new windshield wipers or some other auto parts for my car?

Now that I’ve experienced it, I’ll certainly go out of my way to stop at the store that took care of me when I needed it. I’d never shopped there before, but I certainly will again.

Whether you operate a retail store or any other kind of business, your company exists for the purpose of serving customers. That’s right. I didn’t say it exists to create shareholder value, although that is vitally important.

If you don’t take care of customers you don’t have a business and there is no shareholder value. So I have to ask, is your business providing surprising service? Do you seize the opportunity to gouge customers, taking advantage of them when they need you most? Or do you use these vulnerable moments to prove that you value your customers?

From a branding perspective, surprising service can differentiate you from the competition. If you’re in a crowded market, being the one company that people can count on makes you stand out. It creates brand advocacy and increases word-of-mouth and referrals.

Fringe Benefits

The first thing I did after getting my wiper fixed (besides calling my husband to let him know I was back on my way) was to send a tweet thanking AutoZone for their support. So not only was I happy, I let all my social media connections know about it. Now, I’m blogging about the experience. That’s proof positive that doing the right thing for your customers can pay off.

Image by Garrett Crawford via Flickr.

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