My summer job during high school and college was working in the ticket office of a sightseeing boat, the m/s Mount Washington, that cruises around New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee.
We got, as you might expect, some interesting questions from the happy vacationers we saw every day:
- “When does the boat get to the top of the mountain?” (um, you know it’s a boat, right?)
- “When do we pass by the Kennedy Compound? (Hyannis Port is on the ocean, not a lake, and in another state – Massachusetts – to boot.)
- “Where’s the scenery?” (Someone must have told him there would be scenery; I think he may have been expecting the painted backdrops you see in plays. “Sir,” I replied grandly, spreading my arms wide to encompass the lake, the boardwalk, and the arcade across the street, “it’s all around us.”)
My favorite customer service experience involved a handwritten letter to the ticket office. The letter was from a lifelong Mount Washington devotee who had honeymooned at the lake some 30 years earlier. During that trip, he and his new bride had purchased matching “Mount Washington” mugs at the dockside gift shop.
Tragically, Mildred had recently dropped her mug on the kitchen floor, where it had shattered into a million little pieces. Harold had enclosed a Polaroid of the surviving mug (dark blue, ceramic, unassuming). Might we be able to send him a replacement for its fallen mate? He’d be willing to pay any price.
Somehow, the plight of the missing mug got delegated to me. I wasn’t sure of the best way to get payment from Harold. He’d provided only a mailing address, not a phone number (this was back in the pre-email, pre-PayPal world) – and of course the mug in question had long since fallen out of production.
I decided the easiest course of action was to buy two new matching mugs for Harold (using my employee discount at the gift shop) and simply send them to him on my dime “compliments of the Mount Washington staff.” Harold and Mildred quickly responded via return mail and could not have been more pleased; you would have thought I’d sent them the crown jewels.
The experience taught me that sometimes the “official” thing to do (my boss wanted me to chase down Harold’s credit card number and get a firm estimate of both mug costs and shipping costs before sending Harold a written invoice) isn’t the right thing to do when it comes to making your customers happy.
When you run a business, the people creating the customer service experience every single day are you and your staff. And building strong relationships with your customers (past, present, and prospective) is what it’s all about. These relationships are what set you apart and ultimately lead to real, dollars-and-cents business and referrals.
Go the extra mile. Oftentimes you’ll find, as I did, that something requiring a minimal amount of cost and effort at your end can mean a great deal to someone else.
Besides, it just plain feels good. All these years later, Harold has surely forgotten the circumstances surrounding his “new” matched set of Mount Washington mugs. But I haven’t. And I still smile when I think of him and Mildred sitting down to coffee each morning.