Fast Company

A Heartbreaking Gesture of Staggering Kindness

Think customer service is dead? Read this heartwarming tale of a man, a lost luggage tag, and some fabulous brownies.

Sometimes great customer service hits you when you least expect it. And when it does, it seems like a miracle.

Earlier this week, I journeyed to an interview in midtown Manhattan. It was a good, but otherwise unremarkable, interview. Soon after returning to my own office, the Fast Company receptionist called to tell me that a package had arrived.

What did I find? A goodie basket. A really good goodie basket, enticingly crammed with cookies, brownies, chocolate-covered strawberries, biscotti, and even kumquats. It had been delivered by Fisher & Levy, a caterer located in the basement of the building I had visited that morning. Huh, I thought. The folks I interviewed are truly sucking up.

But wait. There was a note attached: "Dear Keith. I found this at 52nd and 3rd. Hope it reaches you well. Take care." Clipped to the note was the Fast Company luggage tag that is normally strapped to my computer case. The note was signed by Sephrah Towbin, sales manager for Fisher & Levy.

Wow. This was intriguing. I called Sephrah -- to thank her, of course, but also to ask, Why?

"Well," she said, "when I found your tag, I thought that either I'd give it to the security guard -- who would throw it out -- or I'd put it in an envelope and send it with one of our delivery guys." Then some higher instinct kicked in. "I thought, Wait, what am I doing? I could do something nice. And besides, Keith probably needs some catering."

Apparently, Sephrah knows some people in the magazine business. From what she has seen, they work late and eat poorly. This is often, sadly, the truth. "So," she said, "if you have a meeting coming up...." She had thoughtfully tucked Fisher & Levy's menu in with my luggage tag. She wasn't looking for free press. She hadn't heard of Fast Company. She was hoping for business.

What can we learn from this? It was more than a semirandom act of kindness: It was a calculated business decision. Surprise someone. Delight him. Deliver great service before he's spent a dime -- before he even knows who you are. Make him feel great about what you do.

What did it cost Sephrah to pack together some treats that were already made and then send them with a delivery guy who was already headed my way? Twenty bucks, maybe? And for that, perhaps I'll spend $250 to cater our next Fast Company breakfast. Maybe I'll be so impressed that I'll hire Fisher & Levy for every event we have.

That's not all. I've shared the goodies with a dozen colleagues. I've told them the story of Sephrah and my luggage tag. They liked the treats -- especially those maple-blondie bars. They were impressed by the service. Maybe they'll ask me for the name of that great caterer the next time they order food.

It seems so simple. Great service doesn't have to cost a lot. The upside can be huge. It's simply good business. So why don't we see more of it? Here's the answer: To do what she did, Sephrah needed permission. Someone at Fisher & Levy must have told her, "Be entrepreneurial. Be smart. Make customers happy. Do whatever it takes." She obviously feels comfortable taking the initiative and being rewarded for her follow-through.

How many companies can we imagine granting that sort of permission? Would yours? Would you?

(The Flip Side: Fast Company readers vent about miserable customer service in Sound Off.)

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