Tom Peters calls it “the pursuit of wow.” Seth Godin calls it being “remarkable.” None of us do it enough — which is why it’s so spectacular when we see it in action.

Case in point: Sunday night at the J.W. Marriott in Phoenix. I’ve got a letter to mail, but no stamps. So I go to the front desk and the following conversation ensues:

***

ME: Is there a place in the hotel where I can buy a stamp?

MARRIOTT PERSON (pointing to my letter): I’ll take it for you.

ME (handing her the letter and taking out my wallet): Great. I just need one stamp.

MARRIOTT PERSON: No, I’ll just stamp it for you and stick it in the mail. No charge. Not a problem.

ME: Really?

MARRIOTT PERSON: Yes.

ME: Wow. That’s remarkable. (So much so that I spaced and didn’t get the employee’s name.)

***

Now, maybe this happens all the time to you, but it’s never happened to me. And in the grand scheme — of customer service or of life in general — this isn’t a big deal. It’s not going to bulletproof the Marriott brand, salvage the travel economy, or feed a hungry child.

And yet — and yet — I’ve told several people about this experience and I’ve felt compelled to tell a few thousand more with this post. Which got me thinking: Why aren’t I doing more stuff like this? What insanely inexpensive steps am I not taking to delight the readers, customers, and clients on whom I depend?

Doing great work is tough, of course. But sometimes it’s possible to do really good work — remarkable things that make us saw “Wow” — for just 44 cents.

32 Responses to “The 44-cent solution”

  1. Lee Herman says:

    Actually the funny part is that doing great work like this is simple and very inexpensive. It just takes the right focus and follow-through from executive leadership. Great customer service just takes making it a part of the culture from the top and expecting it from every employee all the time. If everyone lives and breathes this attitude towards the customers, it just takes care of itself. But it has to come from the top and literally always be in the air. Done right, it is great for employees, too. They get the smile and the thank you from the customer – what everyone wants.

  2. Carina says:

    I work at a gas station and our really old air machine still charges 75 cents. The one evening, I was working alone and a boy came in with a quarter, two dimes, and a nickel. The air machine only takes quarters, so I opened my register to exchange his two dimes and a nickel for a quarter, but he was still a quarter short. Rather than taking a quarter from my drawer and making my money count off for the day, I gave him one of the quarters that I happened to have in my pocket (even though I rarely have change on me). His sincere gratitude was priceless… worth much more than a quarter.

    Empathy is one of my core values and I try to seize the opportunity to express it when such an opportunity presents itself to me. In my experience, the thing I end up giving the most is my time. It is so worth it. :)

  3. Shirley Munk says:

    I work in health care and have bought lots of coffee, given stamps, added the missing dime (or more) for the person ahead of me in the cafeteria line who was short money, and numerous little things that people are very grateful for. I don’t know, but I think it’s just being human. I live in the Maritimes in Canada and the folks here are known for being friendly and trustworthy. If you lose something here (and I mean lose, not have it stolen) the chance of recovering it intact are pretty high.

  4. Jim Hayward says:

    I was shopping in Publixs a while ago and I bought something that was two for one. I got to the register and cashier said you know with a coupon you can get four of those for the price of one. I said great and the packer rushed off and got me two more.
    Then another time my daughter was visiting with a baby and wanted frozen organic food. I asked the assistant manager and she said they did not stock it but would get it in for me. She got them in for me and of course I did not buy the whole carton but that was no problem.
    I think those two things are remarkable.
    Now if I could only learn to do remarkable things impromptu.

  5. Tony Woody says:

    Great post. Its always the little things that leave lasting impressions. This is something I’m going to try and be more aware of in the future.

  6. Heidi Kraft says:

    I was having a most excellent day travelling (that in itself can feel like a feat). As I approached the security area one of the guards tapped me on the shoulder and led me through a different area so that I could get through. No reason. I wasn’t even in a hurry for once. I was stumped and ask him why and he just said “you look like a nice person and I felt like it”. It was American Airlines but I don’t remember his name. That was several months ago and I think about it all the time. The little things can make a huge impact! And I’m a tad bit convinced that it was also becuase I was in a good space – working ‘with’ instead of “against’ people.

  7. Sophie barbier says:

    I, also, have been both the recipient and presenter of Wow factor. More interesting to me is the release of dopamine in the brain that happens when YOU make someone else go Wow!

    Did you get out of bed on the wrong side? Try starting your day by paying for the next customers coffee…and see what happens to your mood!

  8. Tom says:

    Dan – A few weeks ago (after reading Drive & Linchpin)
    I was on my way back to my office from the public restroom. I overheard a woman speaking to the building receptionist, saying she really needed a coke and the vending machine was out, she had a migrane and needed the caffine.
    I walked by, proceeded to my office and went right into the pantry stocked with ice cold coke and ran back out into the public lobby hoping to catch her. I said “please forgive me for eaves dropping” and handed her the coke. What a great feeling as she smiled and said thank you so much. And yes I refused the dollar bill she tried to give me.

  9. This I’ll never forget: US Airways flight #469 from Las Vegas to SFO. The flight to San Jose was cancelled – parts all over the tarmac – an hour late already – the pilot was flying in with the necessary part – disaster. Airline clerks were happy to transfer me to the SFO flight sans checked bag. Jim Mandoki, at the new gate, when I told him my plight, went, himself to the tarmac to the baggage truck to retrieve my bag with the ‘girly’ tag – big smile on his face – bigger one on mine.

  10. Thank you thank you for posting this story Daniel. I consult on customer service to large corporations for 20 years and here is one terrific example of branding through your customers! 44 Cents expended with an ROI of limitless value.

    I will RT this on Twitter. A small story that packs a big lesson!

    Here’s a companion post on the personal connection that brings great return:
    ————————–
    http://katenasser.com/customer-service-loyalty-the-connection/

    Best wishes,
    Kate Nasser

  11. Jeri says:

    WOW! First for the wonderful experience that I will relate to others so the ROI rolls on, Second, for all the “pay it forward” examples provided by the follow-on bloggers and Third – for reminding us all, that it is the little things that “COUNT” – and truly how priceless gratitude and reaching out to connect to another person can be (great note Sophie)!

  12. Mindy says:

    One of the good parts is that the clerk had the leeway to make you, the customer, happy. No checking with the manager, just “I’ll take care of it.”

    Isn’t it fun to hear good customer service stories? Everyone is ready with a bad customer service story, but it’s much more satisfying to hear about good customer service. At one of my company’s recent quarterly meetings, we went around the room and had everyone tell about a time they got excellent customer service. We came out of that meeting with a lot a great ideas – we let the good experiences do the training. I found it to be very inspiring.

  13. Trevor says:

    I’m with those who frequently try to be the ‘wow’ factor for others. It can really make your day. Of course, small fees for substandard services has the opposite effect and makes the memory stick in your brain. I was recently at the Ritz Carlton in Ft. Lauderdale and waited patiently for a Fed Ex package to arrive from an associate. Finally, after calling the office to get tracking info I found the package had been delivered hours earlier despite my earlier request for notification. I went down to the front desk where it was just sitting there. They charged me $5 to pick it up.

  14. Michelle Toy says:

    Sophie – I love what you wrote:

    “Did you get out of bed on the wrong side? Try starting your day by paying for the next customers coffee…and see what happens to your mood!”

    I will remember that one!

  15. Fahad says:

    As one of your readers, I am always happy that you think of ways for you to delight me. So far, you are doing an excellent job.

    Your post reminded me of an article by Mr. Zig Ziglar titled “Little Things Matter”. The following is taken from that great article:

    “Most of us need a little hope and encouragement every day, and I believe a “National Kindness Day” to encourage everyone to speak with kindness to those we meet would help. Doing that for just one day could jump-start us to make it a part of our lives, which could encourage others to do the same thing. Give it a try. You’ll be delighted with the results!”

    Take care,
    Fahad

  16. Lee Anne Bailie says:

    This one didn’t cost anything but really made me say WOW: The custodian at my school cleans the ladies’ room each afternoon and when he is done, he advances the paper towel roll just enough to leave the first person with a towel…ready and waiting. It made me feel like I was in a luxury hotel to have that towel waiting for me. So when I got done, I advanced the roll as well. Let’s see if it catches on!!!
    By the way, when I asked if he had been doing it, he said yes and when I thanked him, he said he didn’t think anyone noticed. He smiled from ear to ear.

  17. What I am loving in this moment is that we are compelled to share other little efforts that made our days. Proves to me that there are people who are conscious out there. Those who are doing the DO and those feeling grateful. This makes me HAPPY.

    One of my favorite quotes that I use when speaking about brands is by Michael Eisner, “A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures”

    Expresses exactly what we are discussing.

    So today I shall keep my eyes open to make small gestures that matter…thanks Daniel for helping to make us more conscious.

  18. The other day I was at a new restaurant which stated on the menu, “Take out orders, add $0.50.”

    I laughed out loud and decided never to go there again.

  19. Ann says:

    From my perspective, as a business owner (bistro in Manhattan), I have to chuckle at all of this. Anyone one of my employees would have gladly done the equivalent to what this hotel employee did for you – we make calls for customers, we leave a bustling restaurant and go out on the street to hail taxis for the elderly or disabled. We custom-prepare almost any dish, comp desserts and coffee or even entire dinners for even the slightest of errors on our part, and basically cater to every whim and request of our customers. That’s good business, I agree. The difference is, unlike you, many of the customers we have, EXPECT IT. Indeed, they expect more. And yet, for the most part, they do not express gratitude. I could recount here so many insane stories of customers who felt entitled to the most ridiculous, outrageous requests only to rage on us when we turned them down. (Perhaps this is particular to the upper east side of NYC; it is common occurrence. I don’t know.) Either way,”good customer service” should also refer to being a “good customer.” That would make for better service all around for all of us.

  20. Sally says:

    I appreciate the good business side of this act and those recounted by others in the comments, and I’m uplifted by the reminder that people do indeed do nice things for others in the course of work. Mostly though, I resonate with Shirley’s comment – “it’s just being human”. Here’s to that.

  21. AB says:

    All of the crappy things people say about TSA were obviated in my mind by the LAX screener who, when a bottle of wine was discovered on my carry-on (what was I thinking???), personally escorted me to an elevator and told the elevator operator to wait for me until I returned from the airline ticket counter, where I was to check my bag, and then bring me back to the front of the queue.

    The thing is this: I would have had plenty of time to catch my plane had he not gone out of his way. But he decided to save me 30 minutes of time anyway. He made a judgment call that I had done something anyone, maybe even he, could have done, and that the nice thing to do was to not make me suffer the consequences.

    And to this day, that remains my dominant memory of the TSA.

  22. Small IS beautiful… Details of a thoughtful gesture, or a smart gesture (as in business) get our surprised attention. Merci de l’avoir partage, Monsieur Pink!

  23. Joel Bigham says:

    Did you know?

    Disney employees (EVERY one of them) are empowered to give you anything, on the spot, for whatever your inconvenience is. Of course if they give away a hotel night because you stubbed your toe, they’ll likely not get far. However, any reasonable compensation is a possibility. I was the lowest rung on the totem pole as a “College Program” kid or a “CP” and I was even shown where the vouchers were so I could fill one out if I ever needed to.

    They pay for crap, but their customer service is second to none, consistently.

    I think that’s the “significance” that Disney really brings to the table and why I keep going back.

  24. Mark Graban says:

    Great story. It goes to show, for one thing, that “standardization” (of which Marriott is a big proponent of) doesn’t mean shut your brain off. I’m sure they just have a very general policy of doing what it takes to make guest happy – and being a JW, is it a different policy than a Courtyard?

    After reading your post, I was walking home and realized that my neighborhood cleaners in Boston exhibits a similar behavior – with just smiles (they are still free, right?). It sounds so cheesy, but every time I’m in the cleaners (2x a week?), the owner or his wife, they smile and make you feel so welcome to be there, like you’re the only customer of the day, which clearly isn’t true.

    After 11 months in Boston, I noticed just about two weeks ago that if I’m walking home at the end of the day and the guy isn’t busy, he sees you walk by… I noticed him and he just grinned and waved, as if seeing an old friend for the first time in a decade.

    So now I noticed he does this every time. I actually. I now make a point of looking for him and we exchange waves and smiles. Again, cheesy, but it feels good.

    Yes, he’s the closest cleaners, but would I think about looking for someone cheaper? Not at all (Well, unless they ruined a bunch of clothes). He’s a perfect example of attitude mattering – whatever your job, you can choose to be a grump or choose to be happy.

    Way cheaper than 44 cents.

  25. Sharon says:

    At the Doubletree in Plymouth Meeting, PA – where I often stay on business – the hotel manager often stands in the lobby and personally hands out bottled water to people walking out of the hotel to start their day. It sounds silly, but a cold bottle of water when I’m about to start a long day at a client’s offices makes a real difference to me. I don’t have to stop and get one, I don’t have to feel like I’m imposing on my client by asking for water. Enterprise rent-a-car does the same thing.

  26. Beth Cabrera says:

    It is really uplifting to read so many stories of acts of kindness. I think the greatest part is that the effect on happiness is double because the people who perform these acts of kindness increase their positivity as well, as some of the comments have pointed out. Great post, Daniel!

  27. Amresh Kumar says:

    Dan,

    You huge fan. I have shown your TED talk to all the classes I teach.

    I had a couple ideas for your “44 Cent” plan for your readers.

    But I don’t want to impose. Kindly drop me a line and I promise to write back.

    Cheers,
    Amresh

    Amresh Kumar, PhD
    Assistant Professor of Marketing
    Sigmund Weis School of Business
    Susquehanna University
    Selinsgrove, PA – 17870
    Off: 570-3724514

  28. Just playing devil’s advocate, but the wow-factor of this hinges on it being something that isn’t commonly done. As soon as a major company makes this ‘policy’, it isn’t so impressive.

    Not that I’m the ultimate authority on consumer psychology, but in car sales you get a good sense for how customers preconcieved expectations can outweigh just about any amount of service a business can provide.

    The trick is to find something out of the ordinary…

  29. Collin Vine says:

    Great to hear you’re committed to improving your business and yourself! I’m 3/4′s through Drive right now and it’s caused me to wonder about the school system just as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wondered about how we live: “There has got to be a better way to learn than this.”
    Thanks for producing remarkable work.

  30. Mark Wright says:

    I believe when we get down to the core of the matter, its the little things that define who we are “if for nobody other than ourselves.” Giving mindlessly is something we obtain at an early age. Someone was kind to us, or we are shown that giving can be rewarding ” notice I didn’t say taught.” We become you might say unconsiously aware that this act gives us pleasure on some level. Little did we know the rewards went deeper than the good feeling we get from the act.

  31. I call this discretionary effort “Passionate Performance.” It is the result of meeting three emotional needs (Achievement, Autonomy and Mastery) to boost performance and three emotional needs (Purpose, Intimacy and Appreciation) to ignite passion. Explanation of this engagement model can be found here:
    http://www.thelgroup.com/p_TheLetter/18.asp

  32. Jeff Gaus says:

    In spite of what my company does, I am a huge believer in the power of the handwritten note — especially the thank you note (thank you Mom). Because of this I travel with them in my briefcase so I can thank people in a very personal way; however, I never seem to be organized enough to have stamps with me as well.

    I have had three experiences exactly like Dan’s: 1) the Courtyard by Marriott in Krikland, WA; 2) Dina’s Garden Inn in Palo Alto, CA, and 3) The Crowne Plaza in Edison, NJ.

    The fact I can remember these hotels by name weeeks/months later attests to the power of this simple act by the management and the front desk help.

    Now, if they could just do the same thing with the extremely exceptional phone call I make from their phones — that would be truly unique.

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