Monday, May 23, 2011

Legendary Customer Service

I recently enjoyed dinner with my wife, one of our sons, and my mother at a well-known restaurant. I hadn’t been there before, even though the chain has opened a number of locations in our area. I enjoyed the experience. The people were great, as was the food.

During our meal, one of the managers dropped by our table to see how things were going and left a quarter-page sheet for me to complete to let them know how they did in serving us, as well as providing me with an opportunity to sign up on their email list. I completed both portions.

On each of the service and product questions, I was able to choose from a number of levels as my response including the highest level, “Legendary.” I have to admit, as much as I liked the experience, none of it fell into the “legendary” category for me; but it got me thinking…what constitutes legendary service?

I was reminded of a story I’ve heard on numerous occasions about a man who returned some used automobile tires to a Nordstrom store and promptly got a refund, even though Nordstrom does not sell tires--illustrating the store’s commitment to an unmatched client experience. The story comes in a variety of flavors with the details shifting to meet the storyteller’s style, but the basic premise is always the same.

Being one who is careful to identify potential legends as such, I checked out Snopes before writing this, and sure enough, there’s a lengthy entry on this story. No surprise there. If you’d like to read it, you can see it here. I won’t tell you what it has to say. You’ll probably be as surprised as I was to discover the story surrounding the story if you choose to read it.

My point today isn’t whether that story is true, but that it has gained legendary status. There are plenty of other such stories out there about other companies as well. And, perhaps on much smaller scales, there may be stories about us and our companies floating around our marketplaces.

Everyone loves a memorable story of superior client service. We hear them. We usually believe them because they paint a picture of something we would all like to experience. Then we turn around and tell them again to a new audience. This process repeats just as it did many times before we heard the story, and just as it will many more times after we’ve passed it on. Whether it is true or not, the hero in the story still wins.

I’m not suggesting making up stories to tell about our businesses in an effort to attempt to become legendary. That clearly won’t work. What I am suggesting, however, is that when we strive legitimately to be everything we should be for our audiences, stories--factual and embellished--have the opportunity to be formed, shared, and retold by our audiences.

What do we do that is, or could be, legendary in serving our audiences? Are we sincere about it? Does it bring value to those who follow us? You’re smiling just thinking about the possibilities. I know you are.

Get your team together and share your vision. Get their input. Then become infectious with your pursuit of the unmatched client experience. And if you feel so inclined, please share your experiences and knowledge in this arena with us below. Thank you.

Here’s to your legendary success!

Bryan Waldon Pope


  1. Great article. I've been thinking a lot lately about the balance between a "legendary" return policy and being made a chump by unethical customers.

    We are in the service industry (who isn't, right?). We provide inflatables for backyard parties and corporate and school functions. We frequently promote our "On Time Guarantee" which ensures that our equipment will be set up before our event starts or our customers don't pay a dime.

    Just this past weekend we had an issue where rather than being late for our customer's event, we were earlier than expected -- and the customer was upset about it. In this specific case, we were setting up for what was intended to be a surprise birthday party and had effectively spoiled the surprise.

    We have systems in place to help prevent this type of mix up during the booking process, but after some investigation, we were still unsure about where the blame rested - whether it was our company's fault or if the customer was not being truthful about the process.

    In the end, we chose to refund her deposit and not charge her a dime for her event. I feel good that we did what made our customer happy. Yet, I admit I still have not settled on the right balance between "legendary" recovery efforts and giving away our service! I guess my decision demonstrates that I'd rather be on the customer's side of that line, than risk creating a culture of customer non-service.

  2. Ben and Robyn,

    This can be a tough one, no question. We can't go around giving our products and services away for free when our business model doesn't support it.

    I was in the fine dining restaurant business at one point, and saw many similar situations to the one you pointed out in your business. People have their list of un-agreed-upon criteria they attempt to impose on providers at opportune (for them) moments. Here's the conclusion I came to:

    If the error is ours, or even shared, according to an up-front agreement, I'll be the first to own my company's shortcomings. If the expectation is unreasonable on the part of the client, I may still own his/her problem IF it appears it will buy some good will. If the person is bent on bad-mouthing the company anyway, why give away something that you'll never recover through future business?

    Again, it's a tough one, and there are no clear cut answers. Just make sure you don't get snookered by a bargain shopper looking for reasons to refuse payment.