A couple of months ago, I called Capital One to activate a new credit card. I was patched through to LaKia in Virginia. My issue was so easily remedied that we got to chatting about our weekends. I told her I was in the middle of a huge kitchen renovation and couldn’t go camping with my son until I received a shipment of building supplies. She told me her own son had been bugging her to go camping, but she was apprehensive. She lamented with me about my kitchen woes, and I gave her some suggestions for first-time campers. It was a great chat.
Two weeks later, an Amazon box showed up on my doorstep. I knew I hadn’t ordered anything. Inside I found a beautiful memory foam kitchen mat. At the bottom of the box was a gift note… from LaKia. “NO WAY!” I said aloud, and immediately called my husband. Then my sister. Then I shared my story on Facebook. No one I knew had ever received a personal gift from a customer service rep. My love for Capital One had never been stronger.
But also, I was pretty surprised. Was this the kind of thing Capital One does often? What about other companies? I hadn’t even been a disgruntled customer — there was no need for them to use a gift as an apology. So, like any good journalist, I decided to dig into the “gifting” policies of American companies to find out how common this kind of day-brightening thing really is. What I found shocked me.
Making a Connection
When I read the note from LaKia at Capital One, I didn’t immediately remember why I had called customer service in the first place. But I did remember our lovely conversation, because it had been so positive, rather than an exercise in patience.
“These days there seems to be less and less human connection,” says Doug Woodard, Capital One senior vice president in the customer service department for U.S. cards. “A connection with a complete stranger who is empathetic, truly listens, and tries to help solve your issues, stands out.” Sending surprise gifts, he tells me, has been a part of Capital One culture for years.
Meal delivery service Blue Apron also sends customer gifts as a way to create meaningful connections. “We never view the relationship we have with our customers as a transactional, one-way experience,” says Nisha Devarajan, senior director of communications at Blue Apron. For example, the Blue Apron team will often send customers a “love note” or an actual apron (blue, of course) when they reach a loyalty milestone.
How It Works
Every company handles their gifting policies differently. Blue Apron and Capital One both frequently send out handwritten note cards, and Blue Apron has what it calls “surprise and delight” gifts which include everything from spice blends to kitchen tools.
Capital One customer service reps are given autonomy to recognize important moments of connection and give gifts that are representative of the conversation — just like my kitchen mat. “We encourage our associates to be creative,” Woodard says, adding that his department has no strict budget or guidelines to adhere to when gifting — rather, employees are encouraged to get creative.
Home Chef, another meal delivery service, gives each of its customer service associates a $200 per month budget to spend as they wish. “The service we use most is flower delivery,” says Pauline Lazzeretti, customer experience operations manager at Home Chef. Through their account with a national floral delivery company, they frequently send bouquets to people who cancel their service.
Better to Give than to Receive
If you’ve ever been the recipient of a “pay it forward” act of kindness, you know how much it can brighten your day. “Random acts of kindness are as important to our company culture as they are to our customers,” Woodard says. “How our people feel and are treated goes directly into their role in caring for our customers.”
Home Chef’s gifting policy came about as an idea for how their customer service reps could increase positive interactions — they wanted to put the power of “smoothing things over” into the hands of their employees on the front lines. “Giving more than a basic resolution to a problem is a nice feeling for both the associate and the customer,” Lazzeretti says. “If you’re having a bad day, do something nice for someone else.”
Research has shown (and this article underlines the point) that when women — who are not shy about spreading the word when we have bad customer experiences — also tell an average 10 people when we have good ones. When I received my gift from Capital One, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I knew. I also sent a Facebook message to Capital One to relay my joy.
And companies know this — they know that the “above and beyond” stories will make just as many headlines (if not more) than the horror stories. Woodard shared an anecdote about a recent customer service interaction — at the end of the call, the rep asked if there was anything else they could help the client with (as is customary) and the client replied, “I’d love a pepperoni pizza!” About 30 minutes later, the man’s doorbell rang. The customer was so elated he called back to find the associate who sent the pizza to thank them personally.
Many of Blue Apron’s customers, too, have written back their own “love notes” or shared their experiences on social media, paying the love right back. “We’re always looking for ways to build on our program and have more frequent and personal connections with our customers,” Devarajan says. “Cooking is a highly personal and emotional experience. It’s important that we embody these same attributes when serving our customers.”
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