Creating memories … the Holy Grail of customer service

Fourteen years ago, my daughter Alex was seven years old and in 2nd grade. One day she had an after school activity. She was supposed to call me on the pay phone at the school when she wanted to be picked up. Alex brought seventy-five cents with her, three quarters. At thirty-five cents a call, we figured that would be enough – even if she messed up once and had to redial.

Well, at about 4:30 she tried to call me, but dialed the wrong number (as we planned for). That should have been no big deal since she had enough to make another call. Wrong!

Problem was – Pac Bell pay phones didn’t give change. The wrong number swallowed up two quarters – leaving her with just one, not enough to make another call. After about twenty minutes she found another quarter and finally got hold of me. She was visually upset though when I picked her up.

Now this is really no big deal in the whole scheme of things. But I just had problems with the fact the pay phone didn’t give her change on the initial fifty cents. So I went on a rant and called Pac Bell – all the way up the ladder to the head customer service in Northern California (we lived in the Bay Area). Carlos, the manager ,was sympathetic to my cause and agreed. In fact he was going to bring it up at the next managers meeting (not like anything would change – but nice gesture anyway).

What happened afterwards though, ended up being one of those stories I’ve told at least fifty times. Carlos hand wrote and sent Alex an apology note with two quarters taped inside along with his business card. Fourteen years later, my daughter still has that card … with the quarters still taped to it. He created a memorable experience for us, clearly when he didn’t have to. He respected the attention and time we invested in his firm – and did something about it.

No company or brand can do that – only a person!

Anyone who’s been in a relationship knows that much of the time things are rocky – arguments happen. Anyone married can attest to that. But there’s always those times, those memories that, well … are remembered. It’s these memories that cerebrally push aside all the “day in day out” squabbles. It’s the way our brain works. Synaptically, we cannot remember everything – it has to choose.

In a way, our relationships with our customers are really no different. We remember the out of ordinary experiences – whether good or bad. Our brain focuses on the fringe. We remember that waiter who arranged for us try out a new menu item before we took a chance on it.  We remember the time when we couldn’t return that item one day after the return period expired – just because it was company policy. And we remember bad situations made good, like Carlos and the quarters. We don’t remember getting our food on time. We don’t remember things going smoothly. Those things just fade away, a casualty of selective memory.

Why is it then most companies only concentrate on making sure things run perfectly without event – hoping nothing bad happens. But unfortunately we won’t have any good memories either. We’ll have no memories at all. Every firm wants to have relationships with their customers … but they don’t do anything to create the experiences that will be the foundation of these relationships.

But really, a company can’t have a relationship with you – only another person can. Pac Bell couldn’t do what Carlos did. And there’s no way to write that situation into a training manual. But how many employees are trained in making memories and remarkable experiences – and empowered to make them happen. I would guess not many. It takes an engaged employee to turn a bad situation into a great one – one that will be a building block of a long-term relationship between the customer and your firm.

Now imagine a company philosophy that focused on “making memories.” Imagine an employee training program that stressed using the element of surprise, creating remarkable experiences as a marketing tactic. Imagine a weekly employee contest won by the the most remarkable customer experience. You could be the Karma King (or Queen) of your company for the week.

Sign me up! I’ll can never have too many memories!


Please comment below and share with me the memories a company has given you … memories that has made you a long-term loyal customer.

If you’re on Twitter please follow me … there’s cool stuff happening over there too @clayforsberg.


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2 thoughts on “Creating memories … the Holy Grail of customer service

  1. I agree with a lot of what you said. One of the major reasons I was such a proud employee of Apple Inc was becuase apple’s whole psychology on customer service is based around creating those exceptional experiences. Unfortunately there is more needed than just preaching an end result, you need to give your employees the tools to do it as well. Something Apple has yet to master.

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