Ethics Center: Customer Service

Go the Extra Mile: Your Reputation Will Thank You

We all give lip service to the concept of “going the extra mile” (GEM). But when time or budgets are short, it’s easy to do business as usual, delivering the products and services our customers merely expect to receive. This is bad news for the customer, of course. But it’s also good news for companies that figure out how to provide sustained levels of GEM. This helps them to outpace their competitors by creating exceptional levels of customer satisfaction and highly positive business reputations. Consider the following examples, courtesy of Fast Company magazine.

  • Mellow Mushroom, a chain of pizza restaurants based mainly in the southeastern United States, builds GEM service into its “Shroom University” training curriculum. Consequently, their Jacksonville, Florida store was ready when a soldier serving in Afghanistan asked them to deliver a pizza to his wife for her birthday. The crew didn’t just make a standard pizza. They created a heart-shaped one and delivered it along with a bunch of balloons. As you can imagine, the soldier and his wife were thrilled, and the local store—and national franchisor—received publicity for their thoughtfulness.

  • A similar opportunity arose at Krispy Kreme, a national chain of donut shops. When a prominent start-up investor turned down an Austin, Texas entrepreneur’s funding proposal, the disappointed technologist embarked on 100 days of rejection therapy. The goal: to desensitize himself to the fear of being turned down in the future, while providing material for his video blog. On day 3, he entered his local Krispy Kreme shop and ordered five donuts in the shape of the Olympic logo. He also told the counter person he needed the donuts in 15 minutes. Expecting to be rebuffed, he was amazed when  Krispy Kreme’s Jackie Braun handed over five donuts in the required shape, decorated in the right colors. And she provided them free of charge.

  • Finally. Taco Bell met the GEM challenge when a prankster in Bethel, Alaska (population 6,200) spread a rumor that the company was bringing a Taco Bell store to town, eliminating the need to drive 400 miles for a fast-food fix. When people found out the rumor was false, they were crushed. Sensing an opportunity to delight, the company airlifted a taco truck to the town equipped with enough ingredients to make 10,000 tacos . . . for free.

Now, all of these stories come from the fast-food industry. But the principles embedded in them apply to all businesses in all industries. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Satisfactory customer service has become a commodity. To stand out, you have to go beyond the norm—to truly delight the customer.

  • GEM service creates exceptional customer satisfaction. It may well be the most effective way to create “raving fans.”

  • Delighted customers are happy to tell their friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors about their experiences, especially on social-media networks. If a positive experience goes viral on the Internet, the multiplier (or network) effect can touch hundreds, thousands, or even millions of viewers.

  • The viral spread of positive customer stories creates and sustains a stellar business reputation.  And prospective customers will trust these stories more than they will company-sponsored advertising.

So how do you implement a GEM strategy at your company? Here are some starter principles:

First, make sure your employees are adequately trained on the basic features of your products and services and good customer service. Unless they have the basics down, they won’t be able to stretch to a GEM performance level.

Second, set the expectation that you’d like employees to always be looking for opportunity to deliver GEM experiences to customers.

Third, give employees the latitude to delight their customers. You want your Jackie Brauns to have the freedom to think and execute creatively in order to exceed customer expectations.

Fourth, institute a system of positive incentives for employees caught in the act of GEM. They don’t have to be worth a lot of money, but they have to be meaningful and timely.

Fifth, and finally, try to document instances of GEM performance, either in print or video, and share them via company publications and social media sites. The goal: to integrate GEM thinking into your company’s culture, now and for years to come.