The guests at the Featherbed Railroad are some of the coolest people in the world. We get folks from all over and they bring some great stories, including stories about fantastic customer service.
One of these guests told me about his annual fishing trip. Now this trip takes some doing. You drive 1800 miles to a lake. Launch your boat, cross the lake and get to the other shore. At the other shore, you put your boat on the campsite's trailer where a quad takes you and your boat over a hill to your final lake destination.
At that destination is a camp ground where you can stay for a week for $20 and a store that sells supplies.
Normally you would buy all your provisions for such a trip at the WalMart so that you don't get ripped off when you get there, which is what he did the first year. He soon learned that the prices at this very remote store were really low, so now he just brings his boat, his tent and a credit card. The rest of the supplies he gets at the store and he doesn't have to trek them in.
What's more, last year he bought a full can of gas near the end of the trip. When the trip was over, the provision store asked him if he'd like to sell the unused gas back for the same price as he paid originally. Seriously.
When you think about it, this retired gentleman had lots of stories about trips but his favorite was that story about exceptional customer service. Essentially, they did something that cost them very little dollar-wise, but made a huge impression on their guest.
They did the unexpected.
Little things like this can get people talking. Not always, but it's better that they rave about your customer service than rant about it.
However, there's a local restaurant that offers us free desserts every once in a while. I'm not sure why, but this makes me feel a bit creepy. We do send them a lot of business but that's because they're the closest place. Not the best, mind you, but the closest. The food is good and the service is decent, but it's the geography that works for us.
So, you see, something free isn't really the key - it's doing the unexpected to make your guests or clients feel exceptional.