This is a story about chocolate, about people, and about stellar customer service. A car pulled up to my house in Phoenix at 9:45 one night last week, and out came a woman striding toward my front door, braving barking dogs. She was smiling. So was I, almost as if we were sharing a secret. She handed me three small bags, we exchanged a few words, and she drove off. I had never met her before, although we had emailed and I expected her.
Why am I telling you this?
Because Vivian hand-delivered three bags of dark hot chocolate pieces from a chocolatier in San Mateo called GotoChocolate. whose products I always buy when I am at the Half Moon Bay Farmer's market.
And because Vivian works for Intel, not the chocolatier. In fact, Vivian is a customer of the chocolatier.
Here's what happened.
I tried to order the chocolate from GotoChocolate's website because I wasn't going to be in Half Moon Bay for another month. Michael Hohenthal, the co-founder and the man who actually makes the candy, has delivered to me by mail before, but not in the heat. He was afraid the chocolates, which contain only fresh ingredients, wouldn't make it with their quality intact. He cares.
He was selling some chocolate to Vivian when she casually mentioned she was leaving that night for Phoenix for some meetings. Michael said he had a customer in Phoenix, but he was afraid to ship chocolate to her because it was already too hot. Vivian, who knows you have to keep the chocolate chilled, and how much Michael cares about it, offered to deliver it herself. And so it arrived with Vivian on Wednesday evening. Because I was blown away, I was already planning to blog about this. I thought it was probably the best karma-customer-service-brand-evangelism example I could find, and I thought I owed both Vivian and Michael a shout-out. But two days went by, and other topics got in the way.
But wait: there's more.
Saturday my daughter went to the Half Moon Bay Farmer's Market because several weeks earlier I had mentioned to her that I wanted three bags of the chocolate. Michael's wife sells his products at the market. When my daughter went up to her and asked for three bags of chocolate for a woman in Arizona, Thalia put two and two together, and refused to sell Chelsea any more chocolate. "Oh, your mother already has hers," she explained, and told my daughter the story.
Waiting for the point? Here it comes. If you dedicate yourself to quality products and stellar customer service, your own customers become your evangelists, and they will help you keep your brand promise--even if it means delivering bags of chocolate to a strange house in a strange city late at night. Vivian went the extra mile, not for me, but for Michael, and for GotoChocolate.
Now how does this scale? Let's just say you are Ford, or Starbucks, or Comcast or Dell. Or even a small business operating with limited resources.
It scales from the heart. It must be built into the corporate culture from the moment you open your doors, and every new hire must be added because he or she already subscribes to this philosophy. Most of the time this isn't easy, because we've all been trained to hire for specific skill sets: experience working in a medical office, certifications from Microsoft, proficiency with one or another machine or skill.
But in this era of the Internet, of transparency, of the instantaneous Yelp review, I think we ought to re-examine our hiring practices and hire the people who can empathize best with customers and prospects, anticipate their needs, and turn them into brand ambassadors. You can always train people to use Powerpoint, but you can't always train them to respect and serve others with grace and understanding.