At Ritz-Carlton hotels, each staff member can spend up to $2,000 to resolve a customer complaint. Zappos's customer loyalty team will stay on the phone as long as a caller wants and assist with any query, even one unrelated to Zappos. Nordstrom once refunded the purchase price of a set of tires, even though the department store has never sold tires.

Not every company can be a Ritz-Carlton, a Zappos, or a Nordstrom. But any company can provide service that, in overused industry parlance, "delights" the customer. Yes, product innovation is critical for companies' brands and for the economy as a whole. From a utilitarian standpoint, however, companies can earn the greatest outpouring of love from the greatest number of people by investing in service. That's even true—scratch that—especially true in times of economic stress.

It's not just the economy that is prodding companies to become service heroes. The boundary between buyers and sellers is blurring, with customers acting as brand evangelists and influencing product selection and even participating in research and development. Consequently, great service is notjust about speed and accuracy but also about warmth and personalization.

In the new, generally technology-based service model, companies want to avoid disappointing friends. And heaven help those that make enemies. Services such as Yelp, Twitter, and YouTube broadcast to millions the primal yawps of enraged customers. Corporations, meanwhile, are winnowing supply chains, forcing suppliers to hone every customer interaction with an eye toward retaining—and improving—their positions.

The following stories depict companies that are striving to provide dazzling service in three very different industries. We hope you enjoy them. Please let us know if there is any other way we can be of help.

"This is customer service," Bill Crutchfield takes the liberty of explaining, because to the untrained eye, it looks an awful lot like someone hacking into a brand-new stereo receiver with a screwdriver and a flashlight. "A lot of companies get into trouble, because they think customer service is just how you deal with your back-end complaints," he elaborates. "Customer service is everything you do." In Crutchfield's case, that includes hiring technicians to dissect stereo equipment. Read More

Ed Zimmer walked the customer service walk for 25 years. In 1985, he and his brother-in-law, Jim Thompson, took over Ecco, a maker of backup alarms and lights for trucks. Quickly, they understood that customers—theirs were mostly vehicle manufacturers—had to be their primary concern. Without that focus, Zimmer says, they couldn't have built Ecco, which is based in Boise, Idaho, into the $100 million operation it was when he retired as CEO in 2009. Zimmer talks here with writer Amy Barrett about how he made sure his customers felt the love. Read More

Hollywood loves concepts that can be pitched in a few words. So it's ideal terrain for Drybar, a Los Angeles start-up that sells $35 shampoo and blow-drys—blowouts, in the trade—and not much else. Unfortunately, simple concepts are also copy-catnip. With the breath of imitators warm on their necks, co-founders Michael Landau and Allison Webb are determined to make Drybar a national brand. Landau and Webb, who are siblings, plan to make their mark with exceptional service. They know that although a beguiling product lures people in, service brings them back. Read More