I'm fortunate enough to work with some of the greatest experiential brands in the world. My clients across a range of industries—travel, sports, theater, tourism, arts—live and die by offering incredible service and understanding the value of going "above and beyond" for customers. So I thought I had seen it all when it came to incredible customer service.
But then, at a moment when I least expected it, one experience hit me personally that exceeded all reasonable expectations. I want to tell you that story—because in one moment, a big corporate brand touched my family's heart. And the lessons from that have implications for companies of all sizes.
Two years ago, my son was born prematurely while I was on vacation with my wife--sending us into one of the darkest, scariest moments of our lives. My life was instantly transported to Tufts Medical Center in Boston--far from my home in New Jersey—as my wife and I waited for our son's health to improve. After two months in a hotel, and some painful ups and downs in neonatal intensive care, the doctors finally offered good news: We could take our son home.
It was all high fives and happiness until the paperwork came back from the insurance company--denying the claim to have my son transported to a hospital near our home. In their minds, "it wasn't a medical necessity." The doctors couldn't believe it; neither could I. I pay this insurance company literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in premiums for my employees. Yet the company had essentially told me to take a flying leap.
The unit's main doctor pulled me aside and said, "Have you tried American Express?" He had heard stories of Amex helping people with similar problems while on vacation. Amex had always been good to me, but I thought this was probably beyond their reach.
I was wrong. Sure enough, after a quick call to Amex, within 48 hours the transport was in motion—Amex was going to cover all costs. I remember the phone conversation vividly with the representative that helped me. I asked him whether he thought this claim could be covered with whatever insurance I had on the card. He said, with little hesitation, "Of course. This is just the right thing to do." I choke up writing that sentence. Amex really did come to our rescue—with a gesture I will be forever grateful for.
I've asked around: This wasn't simply a random act of kindness. Rather, it's a fundamental way of how they do business. Here's their vision statement: "To be the most respected brand in the world. To win the hearts, minds, and wallets of our customers by providing extraordinary customer service."
As a marketer, American Express is a brand I aspire to emulate. They live by their vision and value statements in everything they do. The company doesn't maintain brand loyalty based simply on how they give out credit, or even based on an advertising campaign. Simply put, the way they treat customers has catapulted their reputation to a place we could all only dream of.
American Express wins hearts and wallets by building value, not with promotional pricing. For business owners, it's not uncommon to mistake price discounts with value. But "Save 30 percent!" doesn't build value. It may build a gateway to a new customer, but discounting isn't a sustainable business model.
What is sustainable is incredible customer service. Value your customers at each touch point they have with your brand. It may be hard to justify expenses internally for activities that don't show a direct ROI on a sales performance report—but in a digital world where the consumer's voice trumps all, if you are not offering an extraordinary experience, your long-term health will look very bleak.
By the way, one final postscript: Two years later, our son is home and doing awesome. Any day now I expect he'll start getting credit card applications in his own name. I'm going to tell him to go with Amex.