HudsonI recently flew back from a speaking engagement. It was a rewarding and fun time, but as this small part of my business life can be, it was exhausting.

My last changeover in Atlanta was very tight. But, after a swift train ride and a sprint for a scheduled 10:45 p.m. departure, I skidded to a stop at my gate to see that my flight had been delayed, with a new departure set for 11:20 p.m.

Whew. I made it. A small crowd of significantly bored people flipped through magazines in the waiting area.

So, I grabbed my iPad and visited an adjacent restaurant for a glass of water and some brief rest. At 10:58 p.m., I walked back over to my gate to board. I returned to find the entire waiting area empty. Reeling in denial, I asked the gate attendant if they were through boarding.

“Oh, they left. You weren’t here and they left,” she said, with a concern similar to that of a cantaloupe, yet with less expression.

I just stood there. Stunned. Tired. Disbelieving. I was at the gate 22 minutes before the announced time, but now the plane was gone. My voice grew louder as I asked, “Why didn’t you page the nearby area to let people know you were leaving early?”

The Delta attendant (motto: “We dehumanize everyone equally. Care for a pretzel?”) said, “We only page in the immediate area.”

“So,” I asked, through mildly clenched teeth, “You only page to locate people who are already here?”

She failed to see the irony. I failed to be able to bring the plane back. So, I rented a car, bleary-eyed at midnight, and drove three hours home.

Meaningless Customer Service

After a series of laughably ineffective emails with their customer disservice department, several people in charge of alienating passengers chose to toss a meaningless number of SkyMiles my way to make it better.

Let’s get this straight. They burned time trifling over peanuts — almost literally — with a legitimately discontented customer at a cost in real company dollars (salary and silliness) and real sales dollars. They did this for — all together now — “customer service.”

I’m not mad at Delta; I’m sad that corporate idiocy hires teams of people to deliver thoroughly neutered results.

Remember, folks, in this age, information directivity has turned and multiplied so customers control the message by controlling their version of your publicity. Facebook, customer review sites, emails to thousands, virally damaging videos, and discussion boards can all work gravely against bad service. Yet they can also work in your favor for good service.

Fan for Life

I was also recently the beneficiary of two customer service efforts that earned me as a fan for life.

I received a Kenneth Cole luggage set two Christmases ago. I love it and abuse it — not intentionally, but it has a hard life. It goes from being empty in a sweltering attic to all-you-can-eat-buffet overloaded; from rolling across varying terrain and clomping down escalators to being heaved into a rented trunk.

So, not unexpectedly, a wheel came off. I was in a very crowded Denver airport, pulling said case, when it suddenly imitated a three-legged-dog on a jogging leash, nearly pulling me face-first into a complete stranger. I glanced back to see the wheel skid off into darkened grossness under a vending machine.

I contacted Kenneth Cole to compliment them on their luggage that had withstood so much, and to purchase a replacement wheel.

“We are happy to have you as a customer, and are very sorry for the inconvenience. Regardless of treatment, that shouldn’t have happened. So, I can send you a complete set of replacement wheels, or you can take the bag to a qualified service facility for repair, and we’ll reimburse you.”

Which they did. I kept the email, the luggage, and my loyalty.

I also own a Victorinox watch, which I ordered from, a site specifically built for impulsive, easily distracted watch and jewelry buyers. This is my daily watch — stainless, tough, and waterproof.

I “do things” to automobiles nearly every weekend wearing this watch, then wash the grime off and wear it through the week. After a year’s faithful service, the bracelet broke. I believe it may have been trying to escape. I contacted Victorinox, was complimentary, and asked if I should send it to them for repair or if they could recommend someone locally. I didn’t have any idea what the warranty was.

“We consider that a malfunction that could have caused you to lose your watch, which we expect to last for many years,” said the representative. “I have overnighted a replacement bracelet. Thank you for contacting us, and I hope we can serve you again.”

I recently bought another Victorinox watch.

Customers are the new currency. Relationships are the new revenue. Build them, and your business builds itself.

As contractors, you have many opportunities for exemplary customer service. Only a small percentage requires a save like these examples. It’s mostly done on the front end, by doing what you say, when you say, and exceeding expectations at all reasonable points. If you do this, you will be so far advanced from the normal contractors out there that no one could ever go back to the others. Raise the bar. You may find you’re the only one on it.

NEWS readers can get the free report “Do You Know the Most Important Link in Your Customer Service Chain?” and a subscription to the Sales & Marketing Insider by emailing their request to or faxing to 334-262-1115. See other marketing reports at or call 800-489-9099.

Publication date: 05/28/2012