How Much Value is Created by Providing Exceptional Service to your Customers?

DSC00515The other day I had a nice surprise when out of the blue, through my office door marched 6 very nice bottles of wine, sent to me by an old customer, Kim and Gary Baright. Kim and Gary had purchased a Prestige 46 from us back in 2007; it may have been the first one sold in the USA. I remember them well, they fell in love with their boat right from the start and named it “Our Three Buoys” after their three sons. My first thought was, wow this is a pretty nice gift, ideally suited for someone who firmly believes that life is too short not to finish the bottle. My second thought was, what had I done to deserve something as nice as being given 6 bottles of good quality vino, especially from someone who had purchased a boat 6 years ago? I hadn’t talked with Gary and Kim in some time but it made me happy to know that they were still enjoying their boat and more importantly, still satisfied customers.

We talk a lot in our office about customer service and what we can do to be more customer-centric. I happen to be one of those people who really love being a satisfied customer. I know that sounds simplistic and obvious, but I really do. And, when I am made to feel special, I become extremely loyal to those companies and brands who made me feel that way.

A favorite company of mine is Southwest Airlines. I love these guys, they make air travel simple, easy and manage to throw a little fun into the mix along the way. I remember one time I was taking a 6 am flight out of Detroit back to Baltimore specifically so I could make it to my office by 9. It was the first flight to go, hence no reason for any delays right? Unfortunately, not this time.

It was February and it had snowed during the night. Our plane had not been parked at the gate the night before but rather left out in the field somewhere. When they went to move it to the gate, they learned that they were stuck and needed help getting unstuck. This took some time and caused the first of many delays.

Once on board and settled, the pilot hustled us over to the de-icing station but because we were now off-schedule, we found ourselves in a long line of other planes also waiting to be de-iced. OK I thought, this is taking longer than expected but if we can get out of here in the next 15 minutes or so, I can still make it to the office by 10 am. Finally, after more like 30 minutes, the guys with the guns started hosing us down. By this time, we were easily an hour behind schedule and although some of the passengers were growing impatient, the flight attendants (always good-natured) were doing a great job of keeping everyone as happy as possible.

SWA SnowSo the guys with guns are outside shooting away when all of a sudden, “boom” everything shuts down; the engines, the air conditioning, the lights, everything. Everything goes down and we are left sitting quietly in the dark.

The pilot comes out and has to shout to be heard because the intercom has also gone out. “No need for concern folks” he said. “It seems one of the guys outside got a little over zealous with his de-icing gun and managed to fire some de-icing agent up our tail pipe which knocked out our computer system. Just as soon as we re-boot the system, which will only take a few minutes, we’ll be on our way to Baltimore.” By this time, the situation had become completely humourous with many of the passengers actually laughing out loud.

After several minutes, with still no power, the pilot sheepishly comes out to once again, address the troops. “Folks” he says, “we’ve been trying to re-boot the system but haven’t been able to, so we have a service crew on their way out to essentially give us a jump.” These words are met with true side-splitting laughter at what has now become a scene right out of Candid Camera. It was truly priceless!

We eventually made it off the ground and back to Baltimore. All together, we arrived 3 hours or so behind schedule. The next day, I received an e-mail from Southwest that read something like this:

“We would like to begin by apologizing for the trouble we may have caused you and your fellow passengers on your recent flight with us. While some of the problems were weather related, others were clearly ours and we should have done better. To make it up to you, we would like to present you with the attached voucher good for a free SWA flight.”

SWA Mission

I was completely blown away by Southwest’s level of customer service in an effort to make me happy. In my view, it was completely unnecessary since I viewed the entire mishap to be weather related and out of Southwest’s control. Their gesture cost the company a lot of money and believe me it didn’t go unnoticed. As a result, I always fly Southwest, always!

So, how much value is created by providing exceptional service to your customers? I guess I answered my own question, A LOT! And, if you’re lucky and play your cards right, your customers might just surprise you and send you a really nice collection of good wine!

On we go….

You can Bring a Moose to Maine but don’t Bring a Jaguar!

Friendship 2Some time ago my wife Kim and I went to Maine to visit Kim’s Auntie Lou who lives in the small town of Friendship. Lou didn’t always live in Friendship but she did always live in Maine. Lou grew up on North Haven Island which sits out in the middle of Penobscot Bay, not far from Rockport and Camden. I remember her telling me that she was one of just 14 in her graduating class. She went on to be a teacher and taught in the Connecticut school system for 30 years. She was and still is as smart as a whip. She never married and at the end of every school year, on the last day of school, she would load herself into her car and drive home to Friendship. Lou is warm-hearted but she’s about as stubborn as a 200 pound mushroom anchor that’s been sitting in the Maine mud for the past twenty years.

Kim and I flew into Manchester, New Hampshire because at the time, Manchester was the closest airport to Maine where Southwest flew and we always flew Southwest. Kim, being the more organized one of our small team, had dutifully and efficiently arranged for a nice, reasonable, economy minded,  rental car for us.  Up until this point, I had not played a very important role in the planning of this trip (I know, no big surprise. What can I say?). This however quickly changed when the rental agent asked “would you be interested to hear about our available upgrades?” Kim immediately said “no thanks” but I was louder and 1-jaguar-hood-ornament-jill-regermust have been more assertive because at the same time, I replied “absolutely!” As it turned out, “absolutely” was the only thing the agent behind the counter conveniently heard. Fifteen minutes later, we were loading our bags into the trunk of a very shiny, immaculate looking, extremely posh, Jaguar XJ6 and heading for the quiet New England town of Friendship. Oh and didn’t we feel special, for a mere 12 dollars a day extra, we were now driving in grand style, sitting behind the wheel of, yes.. a Jag! We had the music going, the sun roof open, we were feeling as flush and important as a couple of Wall Street bankers.

seals-1Friendship, population about 1,200, sits on the rocky shore of Muscongus Bay. Aunti Lou doesn’t live in town but rather on the coast on a hunk of rock that looks out over the water. Tides here are large, about 12 feet between high tide and low tide  One of the things that never ceases to entertain us is watching the seals that live here. When the tide is out, they like to climb up and sun themselves on this clump of rocks that are uncovered at low tide. When the tied comes in, the rocks are covered so the seals have to one by one jump off and swim around for several hours until the tide turns and heads out again. It’s always fun to look out and see the last couple of seals giving into the inevitable and reluctantly taking the plunge.

seakayingmusbayThe extreme tides also make for good kayaking. The trick is to launch your kayak on the incoming tide and ride the current all the way into the mud flats at the head of the bay. These areas are completely dry at low tide but covered when the tide is high. A simple kyack allows you to slip effortlessly along over the flats and into a myriad of hidden nooks and crannies that team with wild life. Then, when the tide starts to turn and head out, you simply paddle along with it and ride the current all the way back to where you started. Such a deal!

The average income for Friendship is only about 45,000 per year with many of its residents making their living lobstering or working on and around boats and on the water. One thing you see a lot of in Friendship are pickup trucks, one thing you don’t, are Jaguars. To say we stood out driving our fancy car through the rural streets of Friendship is an understatement. Did I mention the car had New York plates?  We arrived at Lou’s later in the day but well before dinner. “What ya got there, a new caa?” Lou called to us as we pulled into the driveway. “Wow, very fancy… a Jaguar.” Kim immediately shifted all the attention to me with her response, “talk to Paul, it was his idea.” “Yea, well, seemed like a good idea at the time” I said.

Lou thought that lobster should be in order to celebrate our arrival and first night in Friendship. She told us the best place to get lobster was down on the docks where the boats come in. She said if we hurry, we could just catch the guys before they all head home. She told us to ask for hard-shells. She said that most of the lobsters being hauled right now were soft-shells but we should ask for hard-shells because they were better eating. So we piled back into the Jag and headed off to the local lobster dock in search of some fresh, hard-shell, bona fide, Maine lobsters.

Lobster ViewThe smell of the bait shack that wafted our way on that summer evening about knocked us off our feet. Lobsters are scavengers, cleaners, they live on the bottom of the ocean and although they prefer fresh food, they are happy to pick away at most anything, even if it’s dead. Because of this, lobster traps are always baited with very stinky, dead fish. The fellow in the boat sported orange-bibbed overalls. “Hi” I said, “we were hoping to buy a few lobsters.” “well, I got-um.”he said.” “Got any hard-shells?” I said. “Nope, just shedd..es.” I looked at Kim with an expression that asked the question, “shedd..es, what the hell are shedd..es?” After a few seconds of looking somewhat stupid, I then remembered where we were, Kim and I quickly determined that “shedd..es” was “Maine talk” for shedd..er or in other words a lobster that had recently shed its shell and was now in the process of growing a new one. To keep the conversation short, we said “we’ll take three.”

Now, while I’m no expert on lobster, I have bought a few in my life and when I did, all of them came with pegs or rubber bands around their claws to prevent them from reaching out and grabbing your finger. These lobsters however came right off the boat and they were waving and snapping their claws as if they were dancing the flamenco. “Do you have a bag?” “Nope.” “How about a box?” “afraid not.” “Ah… well do you mind just sticking them in the trunk of the car?”  So the lobster dude in his orange-bibbed overalls climbed out of the boat and onto the dock and with a disgusted look on his face and rubber boots on his feet, he trudged over to the Jag and dropped the lobsters into the trunk. Talk about feeling like the turd in the punchbowl, yikes; we were definitely it. We paid him cash and quickly hopped back into the car and headed back to Lou’s.

Once we got home and hauled the lobsters out of the trunk and into the pot, we had a grand time recanting our story to Lou all about the “shedd..es” and the guy in his orange-bibbed overalls and how because he had no bags we had to carry the lobsters home in the trunk of our car. The wine was flowing as steady as the incoming tide by then and the story became more hilarious with every sip. It was a great first day to be in Maine.

We tried not to dive the Jaguar after that. For the remainder of our trip we let ourselvesAR_MooseXingLarge succumb to the easy-going summer days of Friendship. We kayaked when we could and rode the currents of Muscongus Bay. We watched the seals hop on and off the rocks. We talked politics and religion, drank far too much wine, played cards after dinner, laughed a lot, enjoyed each other’s company, and came to the conclusion that while you can always bring a Moose home to Maine you shouldn’t bring a Jaguar.

On We Go…..