Summer Sun, Spending, and Service

26 08 2011

As the summer winds to a close, I look back on the season as an experience in entertainment, heavily wrapped in commerce and customer service.  We all spend money in the summer.  Trips, bicycles, cold beer, pool equipment, ice cream, and BBQ’s – the summer is about purchasing.  With each transaction there is an opportunity for vendors to turn seasonal customers into return visitors or year-round clients.  This relies heavily on customer experience and overall satisfaction.

Personally, I had one particular customer experience that is worth sharing.  This summer our family rented a boat with our friends from out of town.  We took the kids out on the lake for a day of boating, fishing, and swimming to cool the hot summer day.  We rented a shade-covered pontoon boat from Just for Fun Watercraft Rental in Austin, Texas.  We loaded up our gear and headed out onto the lake.  Docking in a private cove we did cannonballs off the side and caught fish after fish after fish.  It was awesome!  When we tried to start the boat to explore a different part of the lake, we had some mechanical difficulties.

“Why aren’t we moving?” asked the impatient kids, adding frustration to the problem.  After some creative engineering with tools from the fishing box, we were able to start the boat and continue the journey.  A few hours later, it happened again.  We still had a nice time and were able to return the boat after a fun day in the sun and on the water.  Regardless, I was a bit miffed at the stress caused by the equipment flaw, and I was not looking forward to the conversation I would inevitably have when I returned the boat.

The deckhand met us at the dock and asked if we had a good time.  “Yes and no,” I responded, not wanting to be a complainer, but feeling like I had a case for some compensation.  After explaining our trouble, he did the right thing immediately:  “Let me get the manager.”

I hopped off the boat and walked toward the office.  The deckhand was relaying the story to the manager.  As I approached, he walked toward me with a concerned look on his face and an extended hand.

“Mr. White – I hear you had a problem with your boat.”

“Yes, I did.”

“I’m really sorry about that.  We do our best to maintain our equipment, but sometimes things happen.”

“I understand,” I replied, waiting to see how he would resolve the issue.

“I would like to offer you some free time on your next rental.  We would love to have you back, and we want to make it up to you.”

Perfect.  As a guy that has managed sales people and spent much of his life serving customers, I truly appreciated his approach.  In order to give him proper credit for this story, his name is Ted Burger, and here is what he did right when solving the problem:

  • Lead with a relationship approach.  Ted did not try to hold firm in policy or blame me for the problem – he met me with hand outstretched, wanting to be friends first, business associates second.  Instantly, I softened my demeanor and was willing to listen.
  • Provide a quick solution.  I was not required to negotiate with Mr. Burger.  He initiated a resolution and did not force me into the uncomfortable position of fighting for my rights.
  • Generate future business.  Yes, I may have preferred a rebate on my rental.  But ultimately, even though there were mechanical issues, we did have a really good time on the lake – and certainly would love to go again.  Ted gave me a discount on my next rental, and we will definitely return to redeem it – and pay for additional time on the boat.  Ted encouraged future business for his company and transformed me from customer to client.

Three simple steps to good customer service that created an experience worth talking about.  Thank you Ted Burger and Just for Fun.  You accepted accountability, sympathized with our problem, and treated us with respect – we will definitely be back!

Charley Johnson – Paying It Forward

5 11 2010

When you ask most people “What is your goal?” they might say they would like to increase their business, lose some weight, or buy a new car – not Charley Johnson – Charley is going to “change the world.”  When you talk to Charley you realize he is serious, and you realize that he has the passion, drive, and confidence to actually achieve that goal.

In 2006, driving on the freeway, Charley Johnson had a vision, and that vision has turned into a movement.  The idea was inspired by the movie Pay It Forward written by Catherine Ryan Hyde, and the foundation that it spawned.  Millions of people saw that movie and thought, “great idea” but Charley Johnson took action to spread the word – with a simple bracelet.

The “Pay It Forward” mission is this:  You, your company, your community, your family & friends can make the world a better place.  It could be a small act like opening a door, buying a stranger a cup of coffee, or giving your time to a cause.  Donate blood, open a door for someone, work at a soup kitchen, assist your neighbor with their yardwork, give someone your spot in line – there is no wrong way to participate, as long as you are doing something to make another person’s life better.

Charley’s contribution to the cause is a white rubber PAY IT FORWARD bracelet.  You CANNOT buy them – just contact Charley and he will send you a bunch of bracelets for free.  Wear your bracelet to remind yourself to do something nice.  Pass the bracelet on to remind someone else to keep it moving forward.  Thus far, Charley has put over 800,000 bracelets into 58 countries around the world, and he’s only getting started.  The goal is 1 billion (with a “B”) bracelets in circulation – 1 billion reminders to do something nice.  Schools are involving the concept in their programs about citizenship and responsibility.  Communities are using the concept to improve their surroundings and help their neighbors.  Companies are using the concept to increase teamwork and boost employee morale.

Charley & Stacey-Marie Hansen

Speaking to Charley this week was as surprising as it was inspiring.  I tried to get him to talk about himself, take some credit, and soak up a little well-deserved spotlight for making a difference.  You might expect a guy with over 4,000 Facebook friends to self-promote when given the chance.  Not even close.  “This movement is not about me,” he said with a matter-of-fact frankness that is his trademark whether he knows it or not, “this is about creating your own movement.  This gives everyone a chance to participate – the bracelet tells you what to do, but not how to do it.”

The Promotional Products Industry, where Charley earns his living, is throwing it’s weight behind the cause.  Saturday, November 6th, is Promotional Professionals Pay It Forward Day, and we encourage everyone to participate.  Do something nice for someone else.  Follow Charley’s example and make the world a better place.

Great job Charley. I know you don’t want the credit, but you deserve it.

Be A Hero

16 07 2010

I recently ran into a little car trouble – no worries though, I’ve got AAA.  Pull the card out of the wallet, call the number, and the guy on the other end answers, “AAA Roadside Assistance, how can I make your day better?”  He didn’t offer to “assist” me like so many customer service people would – he basically guaranteed me that the result of the call would be that my day got better.

I’m a guy that thinks a lot about customer service, and that greeting really impressed me.  Here I was stranded on the side of the road and all of a sudden I feel like I have a partner in turning around a stressful situation.  He politely took my information, assessed the problem, and dispatched a truck.  I thanked him for his approach to me and my situation, and of course he said, “Yes sir – that’s my job.”


Within 15 minutes the service truck arrives.  I had blown out my back tire on a steep hill and couldn’t jack up my car to change it without the car rolling backwards.  Not a problem for the AAA mechanic.  He sprang into action – he had the right tools and the right attitude – and he was done in no time.

As he’s working away, I’m feeling relieved, and thinking to myself, “How cool to have a job where it is your duty, your responsibility to be a hero?  I think I want to work for AAA just so I can spend all of my time helping people – being someone’s hero.”


After a little more consideration, I realized that my job is to help people – all of our jobs are to help people, or we would have no value and therefore no job – but it’s the way we do those jobs that makes us heroes.  There are obvious hero jobs like Fireman, Doctor, etc.  But if you are a hair dresser and you give the extra effort to make a bride her most beautiful on her wedding day – you are a hero.  If you are a marketer and you help a client exceed their goals – you are a hero.  If you are a teacher and you encourage a struggling student to graduate in the face of adversity – you are a hero.  If you work for AAA and provide safety, security, and a positive attitude in stressful situations – you definitely are a hero.

So I look inward – am I just doing my job, or am I improving my surroundings and exceeding expectations?  Am I willing to guarantee a client that their day will be better after we speak?  Am I saving someone from a difficult situation?  Am I being someone’s hero?  Are you?

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