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December 10, 2019

Low Expectations, No Disappointments

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We don’t often expect to be wowed by customer service. Instead, we anticipate the worst. We know with every return or exchange, there will be a fight. We know that we have to look out for ourselves, because no one else is. In our defense, plenty of organizations have done their fair share to perpetuate these feelings.

I try to remain optimistic; I try to hope for the best when I dial customer service. But every time I get the automated voice menu that doesn’t seem to recognize my particular dialect of English, my cynicism shines through. Every time an airline cancels a flight without reason, every time my cell provider invents a new fee, my bitterness solidifies. Perhaps this is why I am often caught off guard by truly wonderful customer service—the kind of customer service that makes you say, “WOW, did they just do that?!”

In a world where consumers are anticipating the short end of the stick, “WOW customer service” has never been more important, and it has never reaped greater rewards. In the midst of a cacophony of harsh online reviews and angry Twitter rants, a single positive interaction can engender a lifetime of loyalty and positive word-of-mouth marketing. It can turn a consumer from a user to an advocate.

Over Delivering 

Recently, I was fortunate enough to have just such a WOW customer service experience. My Land Cruiser started acting up a bit. The steering was sluggish, and I could tell something was wrong. After exhausting my wealth of automotive knowledge—which is to say I made sure there was gas in the car and that the engine was still under the hood—I drove my car to the shop to try out a new local mechanic.

For those of us not blessed with automotive acumen, there is perhaps no more depressing and hopeless drive than the one to the mechanic. We hope that nothing is seriously wrong, while all the while knowing that we are at such a distinct disadvantage in terms of knowledge that we simply must trust what they say, however absurd it may sound. This vulnerable position was, in part, why I was so surprised by the interaction that took place.

I pulled up to the shop early in the morning, but I didn’t have an appointment. I gave the mechanic a quick synopsis of my car’s particular malady and asked if he would mind driving around with me to witness it himself. I was pleasantly surprised that he not only agreed to my request, but he did so happily (and it wasn’t because he wasn’t busy). After a quick drive he confirmed that it was a power steering issue, and we headed back to the shop.

After a quick check of the fluid levels, he informed me that I was just a bit low and said it was an easy fix. He headed into the shop, came out with a brand new bottle of power steering fluid and topped off my car. Still somewhat stunned by the ease and efficiency with which my problem was dispatched, I asked what I owed him. His reply, “You kidding me? Don’t worry about it.” That may have been about the time I blacked out, but I eventually regained sufficient control of my faculties to thank the man.

While I was thanking him, I noticed another customer pull up for service. This particular customer was a well-dressed woman driving a luxury car. Based on her appearance and briefcase, she was clearly headed to work, but had to drop off her car for service first. As she got out of her car, a young mechanic took her keys and ran back into the building. I didn’t think anything of it until I saw that same mechanic drive around to the front and pick up the lady. Now, it’s worth noting here that he wasn’t driving the company shuttle bus; this was clearly his personal car. I asked the mechanic I was speaking with what was going on. He casually replied, “Oh, he is just taking her to work.” WOW again.

Consumer to Advocate 

The significance of these two actions may seem trivial. After all, what does a bottle of power steering fluid actually cost the shop? How much time was really lost dropping a customer off at work? While the costs to the auto shop may have been negligible, their effect on me was not. I instantly became not only a loyal customer, but also a brand advocate. I became a conduit for the most powerful kind of marketing—word-of-mouth.

Everyone I interacted with that day heard my story. Every time someone mentions a problem with his or her car, I recommend this shop. If they had t-shirts, I would be wearing one. With just a few small gestures, this local car repair shop gained a free advertiser, and likely accomplished more than any campaign of billboards and radio spots.

The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association captures the power of this phenomenon wonderfully, writing, “Brands can pay anyone to love their brand publicly, but the real power lies with customers who ultimately choose whether to share engaging content to friends, family, and often times, complete strangers.” How powerful is this type of marketing? Well, according to WOMMA, 92% of consumers worldwide trust recommendations from friends and family above any amount of TV, radio, or print advertising. If recommendations like mine are really this influential, aren’t they worth a bottle of power steering fluid and a free ride to the office?

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