Business Strategy | Leadership / Management

Here’s how to win your customers’ passion: Be nice

Sometimes, the best customer service in the world is nothing more than a little compassion and kindness.

Case in point: This less-than-perfect footnote to a perfect family vacation.

After three awesome days of sightseeing in San Francisco, my 10-year-old daughter and I made our way through San Francisco International Airport on our way home to St. Louis. My wife took a separate flight to Portland on business, so Molly and I were on our own. A quick jaunt to Los Angeles, a four-hour flight to St. Louis, and we were home free.

As we made our way to our gate, I glanced up at the "Departures" board and noticed something odd: Our flight to LAX wasn't listed.

With good reason, as it turned out. Dense fog blanketed the San Francisco airport. Flights everywhere were delayed. Our 10:40 a.m. flight to LA was set back by two hours, then cancelled altogether. Southwest Airlines placed us on a later flight to St. Louis that would take us through Las Vegas -- more than seven hours behind our original schedule.

All of that juggling did more than put us behind schedule. It also shuffled us further back in the Southwest boarding queue. Our original boarding passes had us comfortably in the A group. Our new passes had us boarding in the lower B group -- and praying that we'd find two seats next to each other.

We lucked out on our flight to Las Vegas, but our connection to St. Louis was packed. I clearly saw the worry on my daughter's face as we waited to board the four-hour flight home.

Then, a miracle. As the B group prepared the board, the Southwest attendant glanced up and spotted my daughter well back in the pack.

"How old are you, sweetheart?" she called out.

"Ten," my daughter answered.

"Come on up," the attendant said, gesturing to me and my daughter. "I'll bet you guys want to sit together, don't you?"

Just like that, we were on board, in side-by-side seats near the back of the plane, my daughter curled up in her seat with her head on my shoulder, and me silently praising the customer service gods at Southwest Airlines.

All due to a little compassion and attention -- an attendant who wanted to do the right thing and kept her eyes peeled for an opportunity to do so.

You want customers for life? Customers who will give you their money -- and then tell everyone they know to give you theirs as well? Customers who aren't just customers but stark-raving, hearts-on-their-sleeves, borderline-insane fans? Here's how:

  • Empathize.
  • Show compassion.
  • Be nice.
  • Solve problems.

And here's the kicker: Don't expect anything in return. Do all of that because it's the right thing to do.

The return will be your customers' loyalty, their continued business, and their outright passion for your brand.

That, my friends, is priceless.


Bill Sheridan