Making customers fall for you this Valentine's Day

Catherine Heath | February 12, 2020

Illustration of two owls surrounded by hearts

The best kind of customer service may not be so much about exceeding expectations, as it is knowing how to do the right thing at the right time. In fact, aiming for the “WOW!” moment every time might be unrealistic, and unintentionally create too much pressure for businesses.

It’s usually the employees on the frontlines who demonstrate their kindness, humanity, and strength of character when dealing with customers. Sometimes they are backed up by company cultures that empower their people to do the right thing.

There’s quite a difference between engineering a “newsworthy” customer service experience, and simply just getting it right every time. It may not go “viral”, but it wins you customers for life.

We published a previous post on how to turn customer support lemons into lemonade. Now we’ll go through some real-life examples of companies who have done just that. 

Southwest Airlines

Here’s a customer service story from Marybeth, Knowledge Goddess and Chief Executive Owl. If you’ve ever had to book a flight in the US, you’ve probably heard of Southwest Airlines.

“Southwest Airlines has a history of handing lemons well. I recently experienced it firsthand. When going to visit my mom, I was taking Southwest. I had a layover in Chicago. I left Denver at 6:05 am for what should have been an 1 hour and 45 minute flight. It was super nice as there were 100 open seats and I had an entire row to myself. 

“The problem was, when we got to Chicago, it was so foggy we couldn't land. We kept circling the airport, and finally the pilot announced we had to go to Cleveland because the weather wasn't letting up and we were running out of fuel.”

Finding yourself on a delayed flight is an unfortunate situation, and most customers understand that sometimes it can’t be avoided. But this all adds to the fact that travelling is an innately stressful experience. That’s why receiving courteous and up-to-date information makes these kinds of delays much more tolerable.

“We land in Cleveland and they get us to a gate so they can refuel the plane and wait for the weather. I checked online and they have proactively refunded my early bird fee and got me on a later flight out of Chicago. So nice because I didn't have to do anything. I was impressed.

“We leave for attempt number 2 in Chicago and, as luck would have it, the weather turned and we couldn't land. Again. So we were diverted to Louisville Kentucky and they didn't know what would happen. At this point, I realized that there was no way I was getting to Florida on this airline, so I ended up taking a different airline to get to Florida for my mom.”

To rub salt in the wound, completing the flight was a complete impossibility. Again, not the fault of the airline.

“When I get there and I check my email, not only do I have a $200 voucher in my inbox but I have a very sincere apology.

The email reads:

On behalf of all of us at Southwest Airlines, I'm so sorry Flight #1122 encountered multiple disruptions today due to fog, low ceilings, and limited visibility conditions that lingered in the Chicago area. I know your long travel day began early this morning in Denver, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to experience two diversions (first to Cleveland, then to Louisville) before ultimately canceling after the weather remained unchanged. I hope you will accept my sincere apology for the interruption to your travel plans and the extended time spent onboard.

Your business and loyalty mean the world to us, and we know there's work to be done in restoring your confidence in Southwest. With this goal in mind, we are sending you a fully transferable Southwest LUV Voucher, which will arrive in a separate email within the next 14 days. We hope you will accept this voucher in the spirit intended, as it would be a privilege to share the skies with you again soon.

Marybeth continues, “This is all without me complaining at all or asking for compensation.”

No one’s responsible for the weather, and yet Southwest Airlines took complete ownership of the situation. They even refunded the customer $200 to put towards her next flight. This is an example of “making it right” – even when you don’t have to. The customer may not blame the company, and even may still intend to use the company in the future, but this type of treatment shows how much Southwest values its customers.

Marybeth says, “And I think that is the important thing. It might not be your fault but you can make it your problem and figure out how to make the most of it.

“I think this is all part of the Southwest MO. You constantly hear stories about individual staff going above and beyond to help customers. And the company backs that up by doing things on a greater scale.”

This story makes me keen to fly Southwest Airlines in the future!

Zingerman’s deli

Marybeth has another customer service story for us, this time about Zingerman’s deli. Zingerman’s is well-known for their commitment to customer service.

Marybeth says, “In the Zingerman's customer service video, someone told a story about how a customer had ordered Zingerman's bread for a wedding. And the delivery driver couldn't find the venue. And of course the customer was beyond consolable. They had been customers for years but they said they could not longer do any business with them because they ruined the memory of her daughter's wedding.”

A wedding is an important day for anyone, and when things go wrong this can lead to a lot of resentment. Zingerman’s knew this was an opportunity to turn very sour lemons into lemonade.

“And the person dealing with this somehow got the guest list for the wedding, and sent bread and a package to every wedding guest. And the mother of the bride and bride were blown away. It was a really special thing for them and the guests, and somehow they were able to make lemonade of that and turn angry memories into happy ones.

“An extreme example, but often the bigger the mistake, the bigger the fix.”

This is a story of how an individual customer created a memorable service experience, but was empowered by the company to make it happen. They recognized the importance of the occasion and made up for a lapse in service that was no one’s fault. Instead of simply offering a refund, they made it a bit more special by sending bread to everyone.

KnowledgeOwl

We’d like to share a customer service story with one of our own KnowledgeOwl customers. Head Product & Documentation Owl and Resident Cheese Monger Kate tells us more.

“We had a customer reach out about links to their knowledge base added to Microsoft Office files (such as MS Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, etc.) not opening the specific page the link was to--just opening the homepage. I had asked a couple clarifying questions--I've seen this before and knew it wasn't anything on our side--but I wasn't the one who responded to the customer when he answered them; Jerrard was, and he suggested the customer meet with me.

“I knew, going into that meeting, that it wasn't an issue I could fix. The issue happens when the customer is using a Single Sign-On integration for their knowledge base--MS Office does some odd things with testing the links in that situation, and it only happens in a few programs.”

This kind of problem, while annoying, is not usually the responsibility of the company to fix. It’s the fault of the third party program. 

“Nonetheless, I kept the meeting on my calendar and I met with the customer, and I had him describe it to me and show me what was happening, and then we tested it with a few other programs (links in PDFs, which worked, and links in Microsoft Outlook worked). So it was clear it was not a problem with the KB and its authentication, but more so with how Office was handling that. I told the customer I didn't think I could do anything to fix it, because it looked Office-related, and he said he understood that, but if I could provide him with some information about why the behavior occurred at all, that would be helpful.”

As a customer support employee who had faced this problem more than once, Kate was in the unique position to advise the customer.

Kate continues, “So I did more research on the issue than I'd ever done before, and turned up both a Microsoft-based article describing the issue/its causes/potential solutions as well as a third-party description that was even more user-friendly. I sent these links back to the customer. Ultimately, it's an issue his IT folks will have to review to determine if/how they want to resolve it.”

Even if you can’t actually solve a problem, showing understanding of and empathy for their problem is a way to turn things around.

“None of that has really anything to do with KnowledgeOwl, per se. It's all MS Office not playing nicely with resources behind SSO. But I understood our customer's confusion and irritation, and genuinely wanted to understand what was going on so he could figure out what they might do differently on their side, etc.

“Ultimately, I'm writing documentation up about it linking to those resources so other customers can have the explanation, too. (And I shared it internally in #support in case other people ran into it.) At the end of the day, I felt good because I'd finally found the technical explanation for a behavior I'd seen previously and suggestions on how to fix it, and I hope the customer felt good because I listened to him and took the time to offer that research back as resources for him.”

We don’t view our customers as burdening us with support requests. We’re happy to help them make the most out of our software, and learn as much as we can in the process. 

KnowledgeOwl no# 2

Marybeth has another example of great customer service from KnowledgeOwl.

“Potential customers will sometimes send or ask questions about whether KnowledgeOwl can meet requirements. And sometimes we don't have what they need.

“Rather than just saying no, taking the time to offer them an alternative is a powerful thing. I had a demo yesterday where someone asked two big features we don't have. So I was totally honest and looked up another solution I had heard of that did it.”

Very rarely will companies recommend “competitors”, even though with a little research customers could find alternative solutions. But we are in a position to make product recommendations with very little effort.

Marybeth continues, “We do this in emails too. We have a saved reply for when customers want a knowledge base tool that is self-hosted, so we send them links of those that are.

“It doesn't take long, but that little gesture is such a nice thing. Even if we aren't the solution for people, we can still help them get where they need to be.

“And I think those little deposits in the karma bank mean a lot to both the people doing it (like us) and the person on the other act. Small acts of kindness.”

We don’t hesitate to recommend alternative products to our customers if they’re a better fit, and we don’t want to mislead them into settling for a product that doesn’t suit their needs. We know customers will eventually find those alternatives anyway, and we want to make life easier for them.

Disney

Marybeth shares a story about Disney World. Disney is a brand famous for providing an unparalleled customer experience. 

“At Disney World, they use the example of a common question they get at Magic Kingdom: What time is the 3 o'clock parade? Rather than simply answering the seemingly inane question asked which really doesn't help, they teach employees to respond to what the guest really is after. 

“What time will it get to a specific part of the park, where should I stand, when should we line up. They use this as an opportunity to give the guest a great experience and personalizing it for them, often giving them tips and tricks to make it extra magical.

“Being able to get to the root of a question, problem, or request is a super power. The best support folks have a natural inclination for it and I think this is the secret ingredient that really makes things sweeter.”

There are many more examples of outstanding customer service stories from Disney, and here’s one more that really made a difference.

Even though staff are empowered to create a “magical” experience within the parks, you might be forgiven for thinking that the magic stops at the gates. Well, this might just change your mind.

One family of six booked and paid for a trip to Disneyworld through their local travel agent a year in advance. They eagerly looked forward to their vacation.

Unfortunately, the travel agent had not forwarded the necessary documents (Mickey Mail) to the family. When the family arrived at the park, the clerk at the check-in desk found no record of their reservation. The travel agent was unavailable, as it was a Saturday. 

The entire family of six was in tears, and for a terrible moment they feared they would have to go straight back home.

Instead, a manager intervened, and entered the booking as a new reservation. She then told the family to go unpack, and enjoy the park. She would contact the travel agent on Monday, and be in touch with the family if she had any questions.

It turned out the travel agent had spelled the family’s surname incorrectly, which was why the clerk couldn’t find the reservation in the system. Despite the confusion, this kind Disney employee had turned a potential nightmare into a wonderful experience.

PNC Bank

We don’t often associate banks with particularly memorable incidents of customer service, but there was one customer who will always remember his bank manager.

The story is told by the man’s son, and shared on his marketing blog.

The man received a call from his brother with the news that their mother had just passed away. It was a Friday afternoon, and he realized he’d need to book a flight from Florida to New York to help take care of arrangements. As he’d also need a lot of cash, he left for his bank immediately.

His wife called the bank, and explained the situation. The branch manager told her that unfortunately they were closing in a few minutes, and the bank vault was already locked on a timer. They wouldn’t be able to open it again until the following Monday.

The branch manager waited at the branch for the man, and unlocked the door to let him in when he arrived. She asked him to wait for a few minutes, and proceeded to go out the front door, locking him in. When she came back, she gave the man $400 – which she had withdrawn from her own account using the ATM. The money enabled the man to make his trip.

Not only did he pay back the branch manager, but he also gave her a bouquet of flowers and a gift certificate for a fancy restaurant. He wrote a letter to the bank CEO, too, and the branch manager was later promoted to district manager.

What’s nice about this story is that we all understand that banks have to follow strict protocols. Some rules simply can’t be broken. As human beings, we can find ways around the rules to help each other and go beyond our job descriptions.

Final remarks

It’s not about providing legendary customer service or grand gestures. Which is good news, really. This means that companies of any size and of all stripes can achieve the type of customer service that makes customers fall for you. 

Love cannot exist between customers and impersonal organizations – it’s what happens through acts of kindness that take place between people. This turns transactional experiences into interactions, and hopefully lasting relationships.

Great documentation is an integral part of showing love for your customers. Take our knowledge base software KnowledgeOwl for a free spin. 


About the author
Catherine Heath
Catherine Heath

Community builder at KnowledgeOwl. Blogs. Copy. Documentation. Freelance content writer for creative and ethical companies. Contributing to open source and teaching technical tools.

Catherine blogs on her personal websites Away With Words and Awkward Writer. She runs the Write the Docs Northwest meetup group. 

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