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Coconut Cake and Customer Satisfaction

February 22, 2007

Tonight, over dinner,  Leslie and I were sharing highlights of our day.   Among other things,  I  touched on some of the creative things being done by my colleagues at work to try to solve unique customer situations that have fallen outside the reach of normal processes.    I was indulging in a bit of  introspection about how far outside the lines one should color in pursuit of a good cause.  

At this point,  Leslie stoped me, and told me a story about a Coconut cake.   In a prior career, she managed food services on site for a large outsource dining and catering provider.  Everyday, they received shipments of deserts including a dozen odd cakes in various combinations of Vanilla, Chocolate, Lemon, Orange, and Coconut.   One of her customers was planning a party and asked Leslie if she could reserve a Coconut cake for the next day.  Banking on past experience with the daily shipments, Leslie assured the woman that she would hold a Ccoconut cake for the following day.  The next day came, along with the shipment of cakes, but alas, no Coconut.   Now, some would call the customer and break the bad news early affording them time to make alternate arrangements.    Some might just blame the supplier for the miss, offer an apology and move on.  A few might just offer a “sorry” when the woman showed up to claim her cake,  failing to own the responsibility for the commitment made.   What did Leslie do?  She donned an apron, and baked a Coconut cake.  While it was good, she didn’t feel it fully met the quality that she would expect, so she gave it to her customer gratis, after explaining the situation.

Now I’m willing to bet, this created a deeper level of satisfaction and loyalty  for her customer than if things had run smoothly and the factory Coconut cake had arrived as planned.   Sometimes a failure can position us for greatness if are willing to do what others won’t to make it right.   The internet is full of people awaiting their Coconut cake – that’s potential for individuals and companies who can claim it.

What’s your Coconut cake story? 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2007 3:56 am

    I still think Nordstrom’s philosophy is among the best in the world on customer service. How much positive press and word-of-mouth have they gotten out of the near-apocryphal story of taking back a set of 4 tires, when they never have sold tires?

    With all due respect to your wife’s quite heroic efforts, there should rarely, if ever, be a situation which ‘falls outside the reach of normal process.’ when it comes to customer service. If companies are serious about customer satisfaction, their employees need to be empowered (in a meaningful way) to ensure that satisfaction. Somehow, companies have the short-sighted idea they will drain the company dry if they give their employees a reasonable amount of concession-making authority. Nordstrom’s is still in business, and as much as I’ve shopped there, I’ve never seen a line of people with a set of radials lined up at the returns desk either. Another good example(if I recall correctly): LL Bean salespeople can make concessions for customer sat up to $500, even though their average order size is only $50.

    Now to my story.

    While travelling on business in Denver several years ago, I was bumped off of my American Airlines flight back to Chicago, and as such was put on a United flight. While getting my boarding pass together, the gate agent asked me why I wasn’t on United to begin with? My answer was because United always ran late. So the agent says, “Well I am going to put you up in first class to try and change your mind.” Just like that, without me asking or making a scene or anything. What impressed me even more was, as fate would have it, we were delayed a while taking off. I look up and the flight attendant approaches me with a note written on a ticket jacket. It’s from the gate agent. I crack up laughing as I read “Sorry! Guess you were right!”

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