Trust and Exceeding Expectations in Customer Service Builds Loyalty

Okay, so I have a raving fan experience to share. It's a great lesson in how going the extra mile and thinking big-picture can win over customers and turn them into raving fans.Photo by Shawn Honnick via Flickr

Yesterday morning, I decided to merge the basic human needs of 'exercise' and 'play' by going on a bike ride with my friend. We took a trail with which neither of us was familiar. It was sunny, breezy, and the blue sky made it a perfect day to enjoy putting the 'out' back in 'work out'. Glorious.

Our gorgeous trail ended smack dab in front of a little Italian cafe and specialty grocer in Bethesda, Maryland, called Cornucopia. We decided to take a coffee/snack break before trekking back home. We were greeted warmly by the owner and his associate who were seated at one of the outdoor tables. They made small talk with us and made us feel very welcome.

Inside, once we placed our order, we experienced an embarrassing realization: my friend, who didn't realize we were going to Bethesda when she left her house, didn't bring any money. I only grabbed a few bills and my Amex card. The cash I had wasn't sufficient to cover the order and they don't accept Amex. What to do?!

Ibo, the owner, was very calm. He said: "Just bring me the rest of the money later." We were pretty surprised. "Are you sure?" we asked. "Yes - you are from around here, aren't you?" "Yes." "Okay, then. Just pay me later."

He doesn't know us. We are not regulars. He has no guarantee we'll return.

But he showed us that he trusted us. And his 'big-picture' thinking exceeded our expectations and will certainly pay off.

We felt so grateful. We spent part of our meal discussing how wonderful the place was, the service, and treatment we received. And we absolutely repaid our debt (the check already left in yesterday afternoon's mail).

But this small gesture and 'risky' investment will pay off repeatedly in the long-term, as well. First, I can guarantee that we'll both return and spend more money there. What's more, the investment will enjoy a multiplier effect since we'll both tell our friends and family (and the world, as in this blog post) about our experience. Ibo gained so much by taking a 'risk' that would have him lose very little if it didn't work.

Are you and your co-workers or staff thinking about the 'big-picture' to build customer loyalty? Are you exceeding your customers' (or co-workers') expectations to build trust and long-term credibility?