Customer service: Going above and beyond

I still vividly remember the day 30-plus years ago, when a high school classmate announced that she had received a box full of Mars bars from the candy company of the same name. My friend had written to complain that she had bought a Mars bar that did not have an almond “in every bite,” as promised in the brand’s ad campaign. Mars responded with the generous gift.

The story left a big impression on me, mostly because, at 14, I was wowed by the idea of getting free candy bars. Lost on me at the time was that in sending the chocolates Mars had transformed a disappointed customer into a corporate cheerleader who would speak well of the brand to her friends, including one who would recount the story decades later.

The importance of customer service would become clearer to me when I joined clothing company Esprit de Corps as a sales manager eight years later. The company’s motto was simple. “The customer is always right.” No matter the reason for the return or the condition of a piece of clothing, we would take it back and refund the customer – no questions asked.

There were customers who abused the policy, including a woman who brought in a pair of years-old, filthy jeans and said she wanted a refund because the pants didn’t fit. With a smile, a cashier gave back money to the woman. The behind-the-scenes reaction of some employees was outrage. Why compensate someone who was clearly *not* right?!

The truth was, it was a small price for Esprit to pay. Customers who returned well-worn clothes were rare. Far more common were customers who had legitimate reasons for bringing back something, but who had lost a receipt or some other proof of purchase that would have been required by other retailers. And those customers came back again and again. (At least, they came until the company’s designs fell out of fashion, but that’s another story.)

These experiences were helpful when I joined, where customer service is the top priority. We don’t send out free chocolates, but we do have an incredibly dedicated, compassionate and thoughtful team that understands that the people they’re communicating with are often experiencing one of the most painful times of their lives. No amount of kindness can reduce such pain, but we can be sensitive and helpful – and always strive to be.

From where I sit, I can hear our team members interacting with customers. Their tones are patient, their voices soothing.

“Need help uploading a photo? No problem.”

“You just found out there was a Guest Book for your loved one and it’s been taken offline? I’ll restore it for a week at no charge.”

Often, one of the Customer Service specialists will go above and beyond in helping a customer, something we encourage. For example, upon learning recently that a widow had no access to a computer, a colleague here printed out the electronic Guest Book for the woman’s late husband and mailed it to her the old fashioned way.

Unlike companies that sell clothing or candy, we’re not really looking for repeat customers. We are, however, working to ensure that our customers have positive interactions with and our newspaper affiliates. One of the ways we learn how we’re doing is through feedback.

Not a day passes without customers sending a note to tell us how much our services have meant to them and how helpful our customer service team was. The thanks usually come via email or postal mail, often in handwritten notes. One such note was recently accompanied by a package that I suspect was similar in size to the one my high school classmate received from Mars back in the 1970s. It certainly was as well-received.

Instead of containing chocolate bars, the box was full of biscotti, baked by a customer named Carmen Deguara.

“I can’t thank you enough for your help and kindness,” she wrote. “ I truly appreciate your guidance with my dear husband Tony’s Guest Book. You made the whole experience so wonderful for me.”

To Mrs. Deguara and all our terrific customers: “Thank you.”

About Hayes

I was a writer for People magazine when I met Stopher back in 1999. His desire to do good and his vision for a website where “life stories live on” appealed to me, both as a journalist and as someone whose grandmother had recently passed away. A decade later, my title at is Chief Operating Officer, a.k.a. Jill-of-all-trades. Among my responsibilities is customer service. I was fortunate to learn about the importance of bending over backwards for every customer early in my career, as a manager for clothing company Esprit. Their motto – the “customer is always right” – is one we embrace here at Content is also part of my world and that includes the extensive review process we have in place for our obituaries and Guest Book entries. It’s a difficult undertaking to review every entry before it goes online, but we believe it’s essential in such as sensitive category. I also am the spokeswoman for the company, the thinking being that a former reporter knows what a reporter needs. Being an interviewee has made me wish I’d been more empathetic when I was the interviewer. It’s an intimidating process! When I’m not working, I like to spend time with my family, here in Evanston and in New Orleans, where I grew up and worked for The Times-Picayune, a affiliate.
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