The (not so) secret strategy these 10 customer service legends share

The not so secret strategy for Custom ServiceIf you plan to thrive in the era of the customer, now is the time to improve your customer service. Regardless of how your customers view you today, to position your brand for the future you first need to examine your company culture and ensure customers are properly considered, i.e. squarely in the center.

Instead of waxing philosophical about the value of a customer-centered culture and its power to revolutionize your customer service, let’s look to and learn from real-world examples.

Let me introduce you to 10 of the best customer service organizations in the world.

These beloved brands, who have each built their company around a strong customer-centric culture, will be our guide. As a direct result of their similar cultures, these companies share a relentless dedication to delivering exceptional customer service with each-and-every interaction.

Southwest Airlines

Employees are the heart of everything. Give them the freedom to soar

Want to see their famous culture in action? Check out their flight attendants having way too much fun during the FAA-mandatory, normally mundane, pre-flight safety rundown.

Southwest’s culture values creativity and empowers the fun-loving people they hire with the freedom to inject humor and personality into everything, even the bland and boring.

By design their culture actively encourages and rewards employees for having fun and being themselves. With a common cultural commitment to be the “world’s most loved” airline, Southwest trusts their people to wow customers and help fulfill their shared vision.

“Create the culture where people feel like they are using their brains, they're using their creativity, they're allowed to be themselves and have a sense of humor, and they understand what the mission of the company is.”

-James Parker, Former Southwest Airlines CEO

In an era of evaporating service and expanding fees across the skies, Southwest’s cultural commitment to customers gives their flyers unmatched freedom and flexibility.


A little weirdness can make a big difference

Zaz Lamarr needed to return a pair of shoes to Zappos, but before she could ever pack them back up and ship them off she got sidetracked. Her mother had just died, so returning the shoes fell off her radar.

So when Zappos sent an email asking if she had been able to send off the shoes yet, she replied to let them know that she had been dealing with her mother’s death and would return the shoes when she could. What happened next, was the result of Zappos’ amazing culture and their incredible devotion to customers.

First, the agent arranged to send a courier to pick up the shoes from Zaz, ensuring she didn’t have to leave her house and spend her time dealing with the return. Zaz was touched by the agent’s kindness.

But the agent wasn’t done yet.

A day later, Zaz returned home and discovered a beautiful flowers waiting on her doorstep.

“It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant. I opened the card, and it was from Zappos,” Zaz wrote. “I burst into tears. I’m a sucker for kindness, and if that isn’t one of the nicest things I’ve ever had happen to me, I don’t know what is.”

Zealously devoted to delivering happiness even in the face of grief, Zappos has built an extraordinary brand upon their distinctive, customer-obsessed culture.

Zappos employees, powered by a culture commitment to service, unleash an unstoppable force of happiness whenever they can. Because Zappos primary mission is to delight their customers, their customer-obsessed culture has become contagious blossoming into an environment perfectly suited for growing customer service legends.


A culture that values employees produces employees that customers love.

The great recession was especially unkind to retailers, but in 2009 as tough times turned even tougher, Costco bosses ordered up a pay raise for all their employees.

To a company with an amazing cultural commitment to treating their employees and customers amazingly, the logic was simple: “This economy is bad. We should be figuring out how to give them more, not less,” Costco’s CFO Richard Galanti recalled then CEO, and co-founder, Jim Sinegal saying.

Anchored by a deep cultural respect for their team members, Costco has built their brand with happy employees thriving together in a culture committed to customer service. As a result they have grown a fiercely loyal fan base.

Costco believes by offering great pay, amazing benefits and real opportunities and commitment to grow their people’s careers in house, Costco has built a club so comfortable no one is leaving. Nearly 90% of all customers renew their membership each year, and 94% employees who make it one year at the company continue to do so.

The amazing culture is responsible for the stickiness that keeps both employees and customers coming back (in addition to the $1.50 hotdog and soda, of course).

Not surprisingly everyone at Costco knows it is their culture that sets them apart from other retailers, including co-founder Sinegal who once said, “Culture is not the most important thing in the world. It's the only thing. It is the thing that drives the business. That's what drives the strategy of our business, is our culture. Recognizing what we stand for in the customer's eyes, and what we mean to all of the stakeholders in our business.”

So even though it isn’t the cheapest or easiest thing to do, Costco has committed to ensuring their employees are happy and fulfilled with their jobs so they can best bring happiness to their customers.


Where service is always “my pleasure.”

The first law of fast food references a simple trade-off. When you grab a meal from a fast food joint you might (rarely) get a gut busting, greasy, shamefully satisfying meal but it comes as a combo with a side of grossly upsetting customer service and a tall drink of “don’t care” from the employees.

Which is exactly why it is so surprisingly refreshing to deal with the always-smiling employees at Chick-fil-A who consistently deliver amazing customer service.

But the most telling thing about their stellar culture can be found in their employees’ vocabulary. No matter what, if a customer thanks a Chick-fil-A employee (which happens a lot, because their cultural commitment to service is no joke) the employee will always respond with two, simple but tasteful magic words, “My pleasure.”

Over the drive-through intercom, after refilling a drink, carrying a mom and her kids order to their table, picking up your trash, giving you a free sample of a new smoothie… No matter what, you can count on their signature, classy sign off.

A little touch of high-end hospitality at a fast food joint, an unexpected reminder of the power of a committed customer-centric culture.


Striving to be earth’s most customer-centric company

So you wake up 4 days before Christmas with the sudden realization that the awesome present you bought your son, the exact thing he asked from Santa and you shelled out the big bucks for, hasn’t arrived yet.

Of course, you bought it on Amazon, so you are able to quickly check and see the status of your order, which is when you realize that the reason you don’t have the brand new PlayStation is because it has already been delivered. And someone snagged it off your doorstep before you got home.

Merry Christmas to the opportunist thief, bah humbug for you. And because the package was signed for, the shipping company and the shipper have both held up their end of the bargain. Your poor son is going to be upset with Santa this year.

But have no fear, Amazon, whose stated mission is to be the planet’s most customer-centric company, is ready to save Christmas.

And as soon as you call in to a helpful customer service agent and assure them you had never seen the package yourself, they immediately ship you a new PlayStation, with free shipping no less, and it arrives on Christmas Eve in just enough time for it to be wrapped and put under the tree.

Seriously this happened. Amazon is an awe-inspiring machine driven by a culture dedicated to improving the customer experience through everything they accomplish. Insisting to innovate, Amazon elevates customers’ expectations and has redefined what it means to deliver an amazing customer experience. 


Stories become daily reminders of a legendary culture in action. 

Chris Hurn’s family returned from an amazing stay at a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Florida, only to discover Joshie, his young son’s beloved stuffed giraffe, was missing.

To convince his son to fall asleep without Joshie, Hurn told him that Joshie was safe and sound, living it up on an extra long vacation back in Florida. The kid bought the lie, and a few hours later the Ritz-Carlton called to let the Hurns know they had found Joshie in the laundry. Dad, in an effort to corroborate his fib, asked the resort’s staff to take a picture of Joshie lounging by the pool, which they said would be no problem. 

What the Hurns received when Joshie returned back from his extended trip was a package full of Ritz-Carlton toys and a dossier detailing Joshie’s stay. Joshie not only by the pool, but getting a massage in the spa, hanging out with other critters, even helping out the lost prevention team...The hotel staff made the whole family’s day, wowing mom and dad, and safely returning the son’s constant companion.

For the maestros of customer service at Ritz-Carlton, every day begins with a real story like Chris Hurn’s of how some hotel employee exemplified the culture and values of their brand. Regardless of role, every single employee around the world gathers up with their team at the beginning of their day and hears the same powerful story of the results of putting their esteemed culture in action.

These powerful reminders motivate and mobilize all of their employees to live up to high standards the Ritz-Carlton culture is renowned for, which in turn creates the lasting memories their guests gush about. 

The Four Seasons

The golden rule’s incredible power to make everyone feel like royalty.

What started as a small motel in Toronto is now one of the premiere luxury hotel brands in the world. And at the Four Seasons their rapid rise to hospitality royalty stems from a culture of customer service anchored by an elementary principle.

Seriously, you learned it in elementary school. The golden rule.

“The reason for our success is no secret. It comes down to one single principle that transcends time and geography, religion and culture. It’s the Golden Rule – the simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same.”

-Four Seasons founder Issdore Sharp.

By hiring great people, establishing a contagious culture of service based on the golden rule and empowering their front line employees with the freedom to solve guests’ problems, the Four Seasons has flourished. 

Trader Joe’s

Keep it simple. Empower your team to be human

When an 89-year-old World War II veteran got snowed in without any food, his daughter got worried. So she unsuccessfully called to stores where her father lived to find someone to deliver him groceries, but no luck. That was until she called Trader Joe’s who willingly delivered him the food he needed.

Even though they don’t offer delivery services. Not only that, as the daughter read the list of the food her father ate and his dietary restrictions, the Trader Joe’s employee suggested other items that would be good for him and adding them to the order.

The food, which Trader Joe’s refused payment for, was delivered to the man’s house within 30 minutes. Not bad for a grocery store that doesn’t deliver.

Stemming out of an amazing culture that empowers employees to be themselves, have fun and make customers’ day in any way they can, it is no surprise that Trader Joe’s in Wayne, Pennsylvania decided to offer delivery service.


“Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”

A store security guard new something was strange when he saw a woman crawling on the floor of a North Carolina Nordstrom. As he approached her to see if he could help, he realized she was frantically looking for something.

He asked what was going on and how he could help, and the customer explained that she noticed the diamond from her wedding ring was missing, that it must have fallen out while she was trying on clothes.

Immediately the security guard joined the search, and though together they covered the whole area they didn’t find the diamond. So the employee asked two building-services workers to join in the search, which led them to opening up the bags of the store’s vacuum cleaners and searching through the dust where they found the diamond.

Nordstrom has one goal—deliver amazing customer service. And the culture built on customer service has one guiding principle they preach to all employees, “use your good judgment in all situations, there will be no additional rules.”

By empowering their employees on the ground to do whatever it takes to serve their customers, Nordstrom has unlocked an army of customer service super heroes. Even if it means they have to get down and dirty.


Magic doesn’t happen by accident. Everyone plays their role.

At Disney, they love the question: “What time is the 3 p.m. parade?”

So while I might say, “You idiot, of course the parade starts at 3 p.m,” at Disney that would never be the answer. In fact, the question itself has become a symbol at Disney of their remarkable customer-centric culture.

See, while the question happens to be the one most asked at the Magic Kingdom, cast members (what Disney calls their employees) know what a guest really wants to know is where exactly will I need to be to get a great view of the parade and when do I need to get there.

When you call yourself the “happiest place on earth” you can’t expect your reputation to magically meet that expectation for every guest. Instead, Disney dedicates their corporate culture to dishing out huge doses of happiness in everything they do and to every guest.

Disney leaves nothing to chance and everyone must play their role to uphold their magical culture of delivering memorable experiences and remarkable customer service.  


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