The classic pillow mint or chocolate – a sign of great customer care :)
The classic pillow mint or chocolate – a sign of great customer care :)

The importance of acting on opportunities to make your customers smile

I recently experienced a customer service situation which left me very dissatisfied. But the situation was in fact a missed opportunity for the seller to make me very happy. Missed because of policy. Don't make that mistake. Make sure you spot and act on opportunities to build truly remarkable relationships with your customers.

The gratifying experience of helping others

When in Austria I was surprised at the lack of customer service in restaurants. When I asked Austrians about it, I was told that waiting tables was considered a "lowly" job, not much better than being a cleaner. I was surprised by this attitude as I consider the opportunity to help someone to be highly gratifying and prestigious.

As a waiter, or provider of services, you aren't in service to someone, but in the position of being able to help them fix a problem. Whether you help someone with web marketing or make sure they have a great meal, you do something for someone with a direct tangible result.

This doesn't seem to be as common an attitude as I'd wish and customer facing people seem to often be trained to follow policy over showing care and commitment to customers. The result is missed opportunities to build remarkable relationships with customers.

Spot the opportunities to build remarkable relationships with your customers

In some cases, there's the opportunity for you as the provider of a service to, through the smallest of acts, make someone's day. However customer relations seem to be codified into processes in such a way that these opportunities are missed, if even seen.

I recently had reason to think about this. I'd been staying at a timeshare apartment and left a charger. I'd gone back to look for it but couldn't find it so I gave up. On the way home, my memory was jogged, I remembered where I'd left it and I called back to ask for it. I was told to use a form on their website to make a request for it to be returned to me, which I did. I then received a response quickly by email asking me if I could pick it up or have it mailed to me.

If I chose the latter option they'd charge me a €5 service fee and postage.

I was surprised and even a bit outraged. The postage was expected, but the fee? I had never in my life seen such pettiness and particularly not from a big company with operations in multiple countries. Especially not to a highly loyal return customer.

Now imagine I'd left behind something truly important to me that could not be replaced. A gift to be presented or an heirloom. I would be distressed and angry with myself for being sloppy and worried about losing something priceless. If someone were to show empathy, realize how annoying it is to forget belongings and send it back, no questions asked I'd be happy, relieved and feel confirmed. But most important, I'd remember it and I'd tell people about how understanding and receptive they were. I'd probably go to great lengths to remain loyal to someone who did that for me because I wouldn't expect it.

Returning lost property in a way that makes your customers smile is an opportunity to build truly remarkable relationships with them.

But someone who takes the opportunity to charge me for being sloppy (for such a small amount as €5 cannot stand in relation to any real labor cost, but must be considered a form of fine) I hold nothing but contempt for. And I will feel being taken advantage of. I will remember it, and I will tell anyone willing to listen about their petty attitude.

But aren't businesses justified in charging for things that take time?

Yes, they are. If the customer makes a deliberate choice. An example would be asking them to receive and hold luggage in advance of your arrival. Actions the customer knows creates an inconvenience and a cost. But people aren't intentionally sloppy and you cannot write a policy that assumes that. Losing a belonging is annoying, to say the least. Your customers would most likely never make a habit out of abusing such a system. And in the small likelihood it would happen, it must be dealt with on an individual basis. It cannot motivate a general policy.

Fees always have a counter-cost

When you add surcharges, or fees, to your policies be aware there's a counter-cost in your customer's mind. Think about what that counter-cost can lead to down the road. Possibly missed business and even considerable bad-will. Is your petty fee really worth that? Do the math. Role play your customers. Relate and empathize with their perspective. Interview them if you have to. Do what you'd expect and feel gratitude for if you were the customer. And allow leeway for your customer facing staff to make their own judgment on how to act in a situation.

Don't and your customers will feel like they mean nothing and will show equally much love in return.

Consider your own recent customer interactions. What opportunities to make someone's day were there? Which ones did you act on and which ones did you miss? Why did you miss them and how can you become better at spotting them?

This article was updated on 2020-03-01

Jakob Persson

Your host. A founder and entrepreneur since 20 years. Having worked as a freelancer, consultant and co-founder of a successful digital agency has shaped his skills in and insights into business. Jakob blogs at, speaks at events and consults with agencies and freelancers in growing and developing their companies. He holds degrees in media technology and cognitive science.